excerpt – Pedestals and Podiums
This is a story which has had strange and potent intersections with my life. In June 1977, I was a young mother with three children—my blonde wonder ready to begin kindergarten in the fall and two adorable daughters who were one and two years old. Purely by coincidence, I bumped into the women’s movement the day I attended the Utah International Women’s Year (IWY) Conference in Salt Lake City.
For me it was a stunning, shocking, stupefying day. From the beginning, I felt as if I had stumbled, then found a precarious new balance standing on a narrow bridge with dangerous drops on either side. It was a day of confusion and chaos–women crowded into hot rooms, often outnumbering the available seats. The aisles were an obstacle course of strollers in which babies fretted in the heat or slept in sweaty exhaustion. The din of speakers trying to make themselves heard, audience members responding and talking among themselves, wailing children, and the overflow noise from other rooms was mind numbing. It was one of those days when you’re confronted head-on with how much you don’t know.
The noise continued to wash over me as I stepped into the balloting booth. Confused, I read over the list of resolutions on the ballot I was supposed to vote for or against, but I realized I had not even begun to think about what my position as a woman in the world should be. Again I wanted—more than anything else, it seemed—to understand what it all meant.
That moment had a profound impact on my life which I vividly, even sensorially, recall, a moment that forever marked my life—a moment of “before” and “after.” I became a feminist although I did not yet know what that implied. More than a decade would pass before I could begin to say understood the women’s movement and even longer before I felt it was making a difference in my own life. But for my young, naive self, that warm June day was as defining a moment as I had ever experienced.
In the twenty-five years since then, I have heard other women speak of the eleven years between 1972 and 1983 in much the same way. For many of us, it was the decade when we were students or young mothers or were undertaking our first jobs. We were still shaping our lives. Perhaps we were more alert then, or focused on what mattered—on what held out the promise of meaning—but we knew this was deeply important ever when we were not exactly sure what “this” was. Women were talking about changing the world, and we believed we could have something to do with it.
At the same time, many of my friends seemed unaffected by what was going on around us. From what I could see, their lives proceeded as if nothing was in the air, as if their lives had absolutely nothing to do with those “other lives over there.” In hindsight, the disconnection is remarkable to me and I have always wondered why feminism touched only some of us, why it does not seem to matter at all to many young women today.
For me, the time evoked memories of childhood. I am the only sister in a family of three brothers and I grew up headstrong and spirited, euphemisms of course for stubborn and difficult. I had all four adjectives thrown at me in various tones of voice and confess that I usually responded in kind. My mother and I squabbled endlessly over insignificant things. Still, my parents made me feel treasured and valued. The women’s movement, on the most personal level, was a sturdy reminder that we women are powerful and talented, with hearts big enough to save the world. The messages of distrust and disrespect from other quarters were simply wrong.
Fifteen years after Utah’s IWY conference, I delivered a paper in October 1992 on my experiences there at the LDS Church’s Brigham Young University. This paper was based on a series of interviews my students and I had conducted with women who had helped plan the IWY conference, who had attended the conference themselves, or who were delegates to the national convention. The room at BYU was packed with women, many of whom I recognized. There were several women from the LDS Relief Society general board including Aileen Clyde, my personal heroine. Most of them I did not know; and I assumed, somewhat naively, that they were there because they were interested in the story. I was wrong.
After sociologist Marie Cornwall and I had delivered our separate papers and opened the session for questions, the room exploded into bedlam, it seemed to me. Accustomed to the traditional civility of academic discourse, I was surprised and dismayed. Women in the back and at both sides stood up and shouted sneering questions and criticisms that pierced the air like spit balls. I began to feel irrelevant to this exchange that seemed in some ways to be scripted. I felt as if I were disappearing into the wall behind me, and wished I could. The anger, the division, the bitterness, and the suspicions surrounding the IWY conferences and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) were being reenacted in front of my eyes. I found out later that many of these women had come to our session with the express purpose of disrupting it. Some had sent letters to the university president complaining about the topic and challenging the research money granted to support the research.
It would be seven years before I picked up this research again. It had proven to be a sort of hot potato each time I had touched it, and each time it had raised fresh blisters. But the story is compelling enough to draw me back again and again, demanding that I pay attention, that I find out what it had meant.
The issues seemed to be crystal clear to those in the pro and con camps. However, it is important to acknowledge the great range of responses among Mormon women. Some chose to become politically involved, join coalitions or committees, march at demonstrations, or lobby sessions of the legislatures. But far more women did nothing. The silence, which is like the apparently unruffled surface of a lake as storm wind build, is noteworthy. For thousands of Mormon women and other women throughout the country, the campaign against the ERA seemed simply irrelevant and uninteresting. They could not see its impact on their own lives which, for the most part, were contented and focused on practical tasks. The messages they heard coming from their church matched their own sense of their position in the world, particularly the Mormon world but they failed to perceive a threat and chose to not do anything at all. Why fix what was not broken?
Others faced the fight against the ERA as a sort of short-time assignment, not all that different from an assignment to show up at the church’s Welfare Center for a day of canning apples or tomatoes. They supported the battle because they were asked to do so by church leaders whom they respected and, more importantly, obeyed, if called upon to do so. The church’s concern about the position of women was a great comfort to them, an assurance in a world of change that they did not necessarily choose to understand or address. This was certainly true for me.
Good, faithful, intelligent women fell into both categories. Women worthy of anyone’s respect, whom I greatly respect, willingly, even eagerly, accepted the church’s position, supported the anti-ERA campaign or other church programs impacting the lives of women, and found ways to weave this narrative into their own personal stories or narratives that explained their lives.
Today, in many ways, the situation regarding women is less straightforward than it had been back in the 1970s. Those of us who still care about feminism inhabit a world that is seemingly indifferent. In some quarters, feminism is treated with more derision than devil worship; many others simply could not care less. Under the illusion that enough has been accomplished, that the position of women is good enough, many women and men alike seem to go about their lives without ever giving feminism a second thought.
Others are afraid to let their feminism show. As a teacher, I have heard students undercut their own positions on gender issues by prefacing their opinion with the little apology, “Now, I’m not a feminist, but …” as if that means they would be crazy or off center if they were—that they would not be someone one could trust. At a recent conference, a middle-aged scholar prefaced her remarks with a similar disclaimer: “I don’t want you to think I’m a feminist, but …” What is it about feminism that creates such avoidance?
It has been disturbing to me, at this point midway through my life, to hear students, colleagues, even friends equivocate about women’s rights. Perhaps the most damaging backlash, the result of the decade-long debate over the ERA, is the enduring stigma that still brands and dismisses the strong, bright, and articulate young women just emerging into the world. Identifying one’s self as a feminist, as one did in the 1970s, can be risky business.
In 1979 Utah journalist Linda Sillitoe wrote a personal reaction to the excommunication of Mormon feminist Sonia Johnson that raised another important issue.1 Johnson, a Mormon mother with Cache Valley roots, was the founding president of Mormons for the ERA. Sillitoe decided to title her personal, privately circulated rumination “Don’t Use My Name.” A strong woman herself, but thinking of her own church membership, job, and family, Sillitoe reflected on what it meant to try to purge the bitterness over the injustice she had witnessed. The title was also drawn from dozens of interviewees who expressed strong feelings on the issue but masked themselves in anonymity for fear of retaliation. Might they suffer the same fate as Johnson and other women who spoke out? Might they be shunned by their local congregations? Might they be expelled from their church as Johnson was? They were not ready to take the chance. Sillitoe called this phenomenon the “invisibility factor,” an idea she felt was key to understanding the psychology that ran through the 1970s and which continues to drive some women’s (and men’s) reactions to feminism.
Sillitoe noted the contradiction in being invisible: “The author cannot sign [her name], and to me that is the ultimate irony: that a statement of fear, love, and immobility must remain immobile—because of fear, and love.” To understand how Mormon women felt about Sonia Johnson and her excommunication, Sillitoe spent hours on the telephone. “Interestingly,” she wrote, “virtually every Mormon woman I have spoken with has assessed her own vulnerability, no matter how ‘closet’ a feminist and/or ERA supporter she might be—and none of them have been ‘Sonia Johnsons.’ Many softly blamed the bishop for their reticence, either because they were such good men or such unpredictable or vindictive men, whichever. Regardless, they felt endangered by the power the bishop held over them. They felt vulnerable.”
The “general ignorance of the facts surrounding Sonia’s excommunication” also surprised Sillitoe, who noted the “painful polarization” that pitted ERA supporters against supporters of the church, dividing families, friends, and wards and also, for some, defining their relationship to God. Despite a level of ignorance about the ERA itself, LDS church leaders relied on the collective force of obedient members who wielded tremendous political power in several key states—a power that reflected not the actual number of resident Mormons but the church’s ability and will to mobilize the faithful to express the church’s position through political action.
Although Mormon critiques of the ERA often read like legal arguments, church leaders from the beginning labeled the debate a moral issue—even while focusing almost exclusively on the appropriate role of the federal government, the use of law, and the meaning of the Constitution. True for the growing troops of the Christian Right that talked of “moral issues” but based its reasoning on legal arguments, the Mormon Church was joining a larger movement sweeping the country, reacting against the social change threatening the traditions on which America stood.2 The Mormon pronouncements were often prefaced by an appeal to free agency (i.e., free choice), but the implication was that a “good woman” would see only one real choice: to obey her inspired leaders and reject the ERA. The alternative was rebellion against the church or even against God and would certainly end in social and possibly ecclesiastical consequences. The result was that many ties of love and many years of conditioning tugged women in the direction these statements were intended to point them. Some feminists among the church membership were torn, feeling that theological beliefs nurtured by the church pointed them in the direction of fuller opportunities for women: the value of free agency, the ideal of eternal progression that did not accept social restrictions, woman-centered loyalty rooted in strong mother-daughter relations, and a love for the ideals of the Mormon women’s Relief Society organization. But even those who moved into feminism because of the strength of their belief in Mormonism did so over daunting barriers of loneliness, agonized soul-searching, fear, and anger.
Interest in the ERA periodically resurfaces. The amendment died in 1982, but supporters continue to try to breathe life into the cause by lobbying the U.S. Congress and state legislatures. In the 1970s opponents of the ERA warned of dire consequences if it passed: co-ed bathrooms, women draftees, and the repeal of spousal support laws. Ironically, these social changes occurred without the ERA, including co-ed college dorms, women fighting beside men in Desert Storm, and alimony laws that are gender-neutral where need, contribution, and support issues are considered.
Mine is a generation that watched Billie Jean King trounce Bobby Riggs on the tennis court. Raised on Donna Reed and the Brady Bunch, we have taken notice of the subtleties of the Cosby Show as women began wearing suits to work and speaking from positions of power, expanding traditional roles to include more than tending husbands and children, to include public lives. Career opportunities, school funding, and sexual harassment became focal points of popular attention. Activists gave up on the 1970s issues of the ERA and reproductive rights—after all, Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, with access to first-trimester abortion—and turned instead to the hot-button issues of child support, protection against domestic violence, stalking, and better justice in rape cases. Sexual abuse, a devastating plague that fell unequally on girls under eighteen, was no longer shielded by the secrecy surrounding unspeakable crimes. Political action committees helped elect more women to office. Female representation in legislatures shifted significantly.
As a result of these societal shifts, some now view the ERA as a historical relic, obsolete and irrelevant. With women sitting on the Supreme Court, running companies, and playing professional sports, the ERA might seem unnecessary. But for others, federal legislation remains essential. Even as a symbol, the amendment holds great potency. From the first, ERA supporters have asked the question: How much value and respect does the United States show women?
In the late 1990s, two states, Iowa and Florida, passed amendments in their state constitutions that, for the first time, included women. The ERA was re-introduced into the Illinois and Virginia legislatures and debated by the general assembly in Missouri. While the original debate over the ERA was raging in the early 1970s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the time a professor of law at Columbia University but soon to become the second woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, asserted that without a federal amendment there would not be an incentive to change laws that discriminate on the basis of gender. Writing in the 1973 issue of the American Bar Association Journal, she noted that despite the passage of the Pay Equity Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and Title IX of the Education Act, hundreds of laws at both the state and federal levels continued to discriminate according to gender.
Court cases such as Reed v. Reed (1971) and Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), which Ginsburg helped to argue, caused legislatures to reconsider laws that differentiated on the basis of gender. Soon the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, laws containing gender-based classifications must have a demonstrably rational basis. In Craig v. Boren the Court raised that standard so that gender discrimination would have to be shown to be substantially related to important governmental interests. Finally, as a Supreme Court judge, Ginsburg wrote the court’s majority opinion in Virginia v. U.S. (1996), stipulating that gender-based discrimination requires an “exceedingly persuasive justification.” The majority opinion struck down the barrier that had kept women from attending the formerly all-male Virginia Military Institute. Despite these advancements, gender discrimination is not as widely prohibited as discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The Fourteenth Amendment helped many but not all Americans. Without an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the equality of women, laws protecting women’s rights could still be amended or even repealed.3
However, this book is not a treatise on the continuing need for an Equal Rights Amendment. Rather, it traces the high-voltage intersection of two national trends—feminism and the Christian Right, with a focus on Mormonism—during a vivid decade in American history.
Nationally-known African-American feminist writer bell hooks indicates how nuanced the status of women in the United States is:
Many women do not join organized resistance against sexism precisely because sexism has not meant an absolute lack of choices. They may know they are discriminated against on the basis of sex, but they do not equate this with oppression. Under capitalism, patriarchy is so structured that sexism restricts women’s behavior in some realms even as freedom from limitations is allowed in other spheres. The absence of extreme restrictions leads many women to ignore the areas in which they are exploited or discriminated against; it may even lead them to imagine that no women are oppressed.4
The goal of feminism, according to hooks, has been to ensure that all people enjoy the same range of choices as those in the most privileged class. This can only be accomplished through a reordering of society to replace alienation, competition, and dehumanization with “intimacy, mutuality, and camaraderie.”5
Besides the battle over the ERA, the formation by the United Nations of a commission to study the status of the world’s women engendered the so-called International Women’s Year and stimulated a worldwide discussion on the status of women. In the United States this included a series of statewide conferences and a climactic show-down in Houston, Texas, the country’s first national conference on the status of women since the battle for suffrage two generations earlier. A survey conducted in advance of the Houston meeting by the National Organization of Women indicated that the ERA, reproductive rights, and other controversial feminist ideas would be endorsed overwhelmingly at the conference. And they were. But the conservatives, who sensed a liberal agenda, reported that they felt invalidated and excluded. In fact, the decade was one of profound division among women over issues that impacted their lives directly. The lingering effects are with us still.
Much of this turbulence fell during the administration of LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, a gentle and beloved leader, twelfth president of the American-based church of 3.2 million members worldwide at that time. The Los Angeles Times ran a feature story about him in 1974 where he attained leadership at age seventy-nine. Kimball, who was born at the end of the nineteenth century, said he felt called to counter such social ills as “the loosening of the marital bonds and juvenile delinquency.” The church had always stressed the importance of the family unit in its faith structure even though the ideal family unit in the nineteenth century was polygamy. Thus, social change had affected the Mormon people in a particular way. “We try to be not of the world,” President Kimball told the Times, “but it’s impossible to be entirely unaffected by it. We have some broken homes, some divorces, some immoralities at times. We try to handle it.” He emphasized that the LDS woman, within the family, was not a second-class citizen. “While we stress the importance of the woman’s role in the family life, which is basic, we don’t make them servants, and we don’t force them to work, or to leave off all the other things. … They are cultured, and in many cases they’ve studied.” Young women, he said, were allowed to become missionaries when they turned twenty-three, compared to nineteen years of age for young men, although “they are not encouraged to do so,” he acknowledged.6 He said he himself was married to a strong woman, Camilla Eyring Kimball, who despite her traditional lifestyle of family care, gardening, baking bread, and bottling vegetables was also well-known for her intellectual curiosity, insatiable reading, and steady accumulation of university courses.
Less than three years after the Times article, the Salt Lake Tribune published a piece headlined “BYU Women Oppose ERA, Survey Says, Men Prefer ‘Pretty Faces.'” This disconcerting survey of women students at BYU revealed that 76 percent opposed the ERA but that 86 percent said they had been the victims of sexual discrimination. Shirleen Jones from Pingree, Idaho, worried about the negative side effects of the ERA. “It might take women out of the home,” she said. Gretchen Pike of Pelham, New Hampshire, said: “Women belong in the family, supporting their husbands and raising their children, not going off being selfish and thinking of themselves.” A poll of the men was especially telling. When asked about their ideal mate—the girl they wanted to marry—100 percent said physical attractiveness was vital. When asked, “What is the first thing you look for in a girl?” they responded variously, most emphasizing “a good figure and a pretty face,” while three said “intelligence” and four said spirituality or a “strong testimony” were important. Dean Brown of Culver City, California, explained; “It is said that if given a choice between marrying an ugly girl with a good spirit or a cute girl with no spirit, marry the cute one because you can give a girl a good spirit, but you can’t give an ugly girl good looks.”7
Several years earlier, the LDS magazine for adolescents, in an article titled, “What Is a Girl Good For?” proposed that this was a question “the young woman of today asks”:
One hears a lot of talk about what today’s girl is good for. One sees the word in print. But opinions vary greatly. Girls are counseled to marry and have families—to fulfill the measure of their creation. But if they do, they are charged with adding to the problem of the population explosion. They are taught the same subjects as boys in school and trained to compete with them in the world of commerce. On the other hand, they are reminded that their place is in the home. What is the truth? The dichotomy can be disconcerting.8
In this gendered discussion, author Elaine Cannon explained:
One thing of which an LDS girl is certain is that her role in the Church and in life will always be different from that of a boy. She has not been given the priesthood. God’s power is not used through her exactly as it is in men. But a girl does have a power. Hers is the power to bear children, yes, but also to love, and with heart and hand to comfort, teach, and train, to heal and care for both old and young, man, woman, and child alike, wherever her service may take her.
Thus, service rather than leadership was ultimately what a “girl is good for.”
Perhaps this kind of language and imagery should not sadden me, but I confess that it does. Is not service part of being human? Should service not be what boys are good for? The evident difficulty in identifying what a “girl is good for” injures women and men alike. Women are good for everything, not because someone finds the words to tell them they are, but because it is already in them to be so. Most importantly, the discourse about the position of women in the Mormon world was argued with rhetoric which failed to satisfactorily explain the difference.
Women of my generation grew up in households with mothers whose sense of self was tied to 1950s obligations of perfect womanhood. To those of us following them, the messages by which our mothers lived seemed contradictory and even destructive. Consider, for example, Fascinating Womanhood, Helen B. Andelin’s advice for the perfect woman, a book that sat on the bookshelf in our family room next to Steinbeck, Faulkner, and recordings of Mario Lanza. Like the other books, I took down Fascinating Womanhood and read it. I watched eagerly to see if my mother asked my father for help because he was “stronger.” I had seen her move a piano by herself and knew she could do anything she set her mind to. But I was suspicious of her every move for a while.
The LDS Church News, published weekly, celebrated Andelin’s willingness to speak out against “women’s liberation” in a day when other religious women seemed reticent to challenge the more experienced public debaters of feminism. Andelin was the mother of eight children, three at BYU or on LDS missions in the 1970s. “In feel strongly that the women’s lib movement will fail,” she told the Church News. “Everything they stand for is against the basic role of women. They want to do away with this woman’s place in the home, yet without the structure of the home, the whole nation would be weakened.” She questioned feminism’s position on individual freedom, which argued that wives and mothers lose freedom by choosing to be full-time care givers and homemakers. “We need woman power in the home,” she asserted. “If a woman will stay in the home and make a career out of it, she has the ability as a mother to make the world a different place.”9
Andelin said she had come across a series of booklets written in the 1920s called “The Secrets of Fascinating Womanhood,” with ideas about how to manage happier marriages. She combined these insights with her own background in Mormonism and experience as a wife and mother to begin holding seminars for women. Soon her seminars were overflowing with as many as 170 eager disciples at a time, and church members clamored for her how-to advice for a happy marriage. Her resulting book, Fascinating Womanhood, fit well with other conservative attempts to protect the American family in the wake of the Cold War and with the Mormon spin on what had been called the cult of true womanhood.10 Andelin portrayed her ideal woman as one who knew how to keep her man happy by making him think he was stronger and cleverer—that she should pretend to wilt and expire in the absence of his manly protection. For many women troubled by an unfulfilled marriage or the specter of rising divorce rates, Fascinating Womanhood promised to create unbreakable bonds of domestic romance. For many other women, troubled by the deceit and manipulation they were asked to deploy, Fascinating Womanhood was asking them to compromise their integrity in the name of the family.
A student editorial appearing in December 1977 in the University of Utah’s Daily Chronicle captured this failure to take women seriously. The anonymous writer, who described herself as a “Houston observer,” blamed the media for failing to present the truth of the women’s movement. “The media has made every attempt to make a sham of the women’s movement either by reducing it to a ridiculous group of bra burning malcontents or militant man-hating tigers.” She criticized the press for distinguishing between “pro-family” Utahns and anti-family feminists when the latter were equally family friendly. With convenient sound bites, society had effectively boxed up women into tight little packages that didn’t leave any room for individuality, personal expression, or growth. Both sides did it.
What I offer in this book is my own vantage point in the continuing debate over the rights and responsibilities of Mormon women, a debate that is politicized, despite being conducted largely in a church setting, and one in which rhetoric has played a supremely important role. I hope my insights prove to be useful in clarifying of one position and a positive contribution to that debate.
This project has benefitted greatly from the tremendous resources found in various archives and historical libraries. Clearly, women knew this decade carried significant weight. Many knew they were making history and acting on a national stage. They kept their records. Many women gave their files to the Utah State Historical Society, the University of Utah, or Brigham Young University. Thus, an immense and thorough record of these events is readily available for research. Many of the relevant files planned for disposal by the LDS Church archives ended up at the University of Utah’s Special Collections and are therefore also available for the use of researchers.
Beginning in 1992, several of my students and I interviewed women who have been a part of this story. These interviews are still in my possession on tape and in typescript, although not yet in a finalized form. They are destined to become part of the documentary record in the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. In my source notations, these are designated as part of the “IWY Project.” The voices captured in these interviews lend additional power to the narrative, otherwise drawn from official documents, newspaper reports, and secondary sources; and their vivid sensorial memories add an important element to these events. It was not infrequently that my students and I sat with someone who, in remembering these painful years, allowed tears to flow unchecked while she recalled what had occurred—what she had cared about or worked for and what had changed or not changed since that time. The interviews were sponsored in part by support from the BYU Women’s Research Institute and the University of Utah. They represent a balance between conservative and liberal voices, professional women and stay-at-home mothers, students and elderly women. Every attempt was made to be fair in the choice of women to interview and whose voices would contribute to this narrative. Many of the women we interviewed gave us their personal files, shared their letters and journals with us, and gave us the boxes of books, pamphlets, and papers they had saved all these years. Again, they knew these records were important, that they had helped shape history. It has been one of the rich rewards of researching this history that so many of the players are still alive, have continued to play public roles, and have reflected seriously on the significance of that decade.
The documentary record includes a huge outpouring of official publications from the LDS Church, but it has not been easy to detect the personal input of individual church leaders. Spencer Kimball, for example, made only infrequent mention of the church’s campaign against the ERA in his journal.11 There are almost no personal responses available from other significant players on the General Authority level. That part of the story is left for someone else to write.
As important as the events beginning in the late 1970s is the historical context for these developments, which is why nineteenth-century views of women and female activism, both nationally and within the LDS Church, are the subject of the first chapter in this book. Opponents and proponents of the ERA have both used Mormon history to prove their points. It is important to know the historical relationship of Mormon women to their church and their early participation in the women’s movement, as well as how the church interpreted a woman’s role and the issues that were important to both. The second chapter describes the efforts by national activists in passing an equal rights amendment beginning in the 1920s and continuing to the 1970s.
I found that, in key ways, the campaign against the ERA was a battle fought rhetorically with alternative imagery portraying the role of women, the nature of woman, and the potential impact of an equal rights amendment on the position of women in the world. Chapter 3 analyzes the rhetorical arguments, media, and discourse employed in this struggle, particularly the rhetorical stance of the Mormon Church in its anti-ERA campaign of the 1970s.
The next several chapters span the years between 1972 and 1983 and detail the campaigns, including the anti-ERA effort organized by the Special Affairs Committee of the LDS Church in Iowa, Florida, Nevada, New York, Virginia, and other key states in the ratification effort. These chapters focus as well on the mid-1970s when IWY conferences were held internationally within each participating nation and in each state of the Union. The final chapters focus on the efforts of individual Mormon women to organize in opposition to the church’s official position in such organizations as Mormons for ERA (MERA); the story of MERA’s most prominent leader, Sonia Johnson; and one women’s group in Utah, the Alice Louise Reynolds Forum, which provided an outlet for those who were reevaluating their lives as LDS women in the wake of the decade’s disturbance and the church’s campaign.
Ironically, I can fully relate to both of the opposing points of view. I spent fifteen years as a “stay-at-home mother” and the next several years to the present time as a professor. My sense of a woman’s life is that it is rich with choices, complex with competing pulls on her time and energy, but that it also holds out rich rewards. It is true that the LDS Church’s campaign against the ERA was one of many. In important ways it mirrored the efforts of others—Protestant religious groups, conservative political action committees, and special interest organizations that first formed to fight the ERA and then transferred their attention and focus to other issues on the American political landscape. I will not anywhere in this book say that this campaign was wrong, but will instead try to understand how it worked and the impact it had on individual women’s lives, the position of Utah in the context of Mormonism and Utah society, and the long-term implications of such a campaign on the women’s movement more generally. In large measure, this was a war of words. But they were words that ripped apart women’s lives, threatened to destroy their self-respect or dignity, and that divided women from each other in profoundly important and meaningful ways. Originally motivated by fear of change, one of many deep and weighty transformations was that women became afraid of each other. Rather than searching for common ground, this was a time when women pulled apart, believed the rhetoric of suspicion and alarm, and contributed to the dichotomies that separated feminists from more traditional women and rendered them powerless at reaching reconciliation.
It has been thirty years since the ERA was passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. I have heard countless women speak of that period as if it were their coming-out party. Regardless of where each woman positioned herself, it was a time of social upheaval and change. It forced Americans to examine the ways we relate to each other as men and women, our relationship to the law, the ways we build community, and our options in negotiating marriages and raising children. Many women had experiences similar to mine through events like the IWY that caused a sea of change in their lives. Set adrift, women rewrote their scripts or took decades to begin to process and consider what it had meant for them. For others, the turbulence of the change and the violence of the backlash made them cling more tightly to traditional religion and family structures as a source of stability and meaning.
The willingness of the women to share their stories made this book possible. For many, these stories were intensely personal and painful. Other women have chosen to keep their stories private and untold. For those who shared, I value their gifts and respect both the giver and the responsibility that comes with hearing. Their stories will become part of the reader’s understanding as we all find our lives inextricably linked. What we women did, separately and together, impacted all of us.
Among many to whom I am indebted are first of all the staff of the University of Utah’s Special Collections archives in the Marriott Library. They were particularly helpful in passing on box after box of rich materials for my perusal. They were infinitely patient as I repeatedly exclaimed:
“Can you believe this?” or “Look at this!” Much of it was really too good to believe—exactly on topic. I was deeply moved by the sense of historical significance that prompted women such as Linda Sillitoe, Sonia Johnson, Sharon Kreigher, and Kathryn MacKay to save their correspondence, the pamphlets they picked up at various demonstrations, and their personal notes. They knew the importance of this story.
Lavina Fielding Anderson’s fine ethical and moral sense is evident throughout this manuscript through her editing, her friendship, and her leadership. She is an endless source of inspiration and wisdom. The Signature Books team made the final stage of the production of this book a grand ride. Ultimately, they make it happen, and they always make it excellent, rewarding, and right.
As always, my children also made this book possible. The first three were babies when this story began, and the last three are now adults, my friends and strength. It was perhaps necessary that I complete this project—despite the many disruptions and temptations to push it aside—because of these children: my two amazing sons—Jason and Patrick—my four powerful daughters—Elizabeth and her husband Mark, Rachael, Emily and Jerol, and Katelyn—and the woman my son Jason married Sharley; the woman with whom Patrick may some day make his life; grandchildren Aspen, Dylan, Kristin, the beautiful new baby girl, Stella Rose; and the others who will come. For me, the women’s movement was about making a rich, full life possible for every one of us. It is a journey that is still incomplete.
While the motives of its supporters may be praiseworthy, [the] ERA as a blanket attempt to help women could indeed bring them far more restraints and repressions. We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts. It would strike at the family, humankind’s basic institution.
—LDS First Presidency, 1976
When the ERA passed both the House and Senate in 1972, ratification appeared to be a fait accompli. The Senate vote of 84 to 8 signaled what most saw as a deep-rooted national consensus, a natural result of the social revolutions of the 1960s. The student revolt, the push for civil rights, and the subsequent cultural revolution signaled a willingness to depart from tradition. Changes of all sorts seemed not only possible but highly desirable. Past institutions no longer had an automatic advantage. Under the leadership of Betty Friedan, the women of NOW captured the spirit of progress and advocated legal and societal changes because “women can and must participate in old and new fields of society in full equality or become permanent outsiders.”1 Moreover, NOW demanded that the Constitution work for women. “WE BELIEVE that the power of American law, and the protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to the civil rights of all individuals, must be effectively applied and enforced to isolate and remove patterns of sex discrimination, to ensure equality of opportunity in employment and education, and equality of civil and political rights and responsibilities on behalf of women, as well as for Negroes and other deprived groups.”2 No one was talking about counter-revolutions. However, anyone attuned to the cyclical nature of history may have noted that momentum for the ERA coincided with the end of the exhausting, expensive, and inconclusive war in Vietnam, which should have portended a conservative backlash opposed to socio-economic reforms.
Within this broad context appear the moves and countermoves defenders and opponents of the ERA. The era’s trajectory show its Congressional passage and early ease in passing state scrutiny left feminists and politicians unprepared for the conservative backlash which appeared with such fury and force that proponents were stunned—knocked off balance and left fumbling for some new strategy to maintain an equal rights agenda. But for opponents, the women’s movement itself had come to be seen as a threat to their most cherished institution: the nuclear family. The ERA became the symbol of what was wrong with society. Stopping it would halt disintegration, purify moral turpitude, clarify political chaos, and redeem ill-advised legal change. In short, by rejecting feminism, according to these conservative groups, one challenged the heart of the national liberal agenda that had been gathering force since the 1950s.
At first ERA boosters reacted in a scornful and dismissive way. Rather than accept the fears raised by conservatives about unisex restrooms and decriminalization of rape and engage people in mutually respectful dialogue, liberals saw these boogeymen as too ludicrous to even deserve a response. The further entanglement in anti-ERA rhetoric topics of homosexuality and abortion indicated that for traditional women, these seemed to be part and parcel with the era’s aim of allowing women the right to make their own choices. Whether such arguments were true or not was irrelevant. What was true was that this language and imagery employed by opponents revealed that traditional women felt vulnerable in having to move beyond conventional female roles and consider a wider spectrum of respectability.
One historian of the ERA commented on “the profoundly irrational beliefs” of the opponents, while at the same time ignoring the sometimes equally irrational beliefs that powered the era’s proponents. She was absolutely correct in saying that these beliefs may have been “non-negotiable. Two value systems, two world views, two cultures suddenly impacted, but only one side knew it back in 1973.”3 Nowhere was this description truer than for Mormonism’s women as the national debate over ratification began in 1973.
Feminists pitted against homemakers, Mormons against Mormons, conservatives against liberals, heterosexual marriage against homosexual union. These dichotomies were seemingly irreconcilable. Demonized by ideas or labels that burned like cattle brands, feminism was the catch-all for modem society’s woes, the scapegoat for citizens who were apprehensive about what the next change would be. Women struggled to decide for themselves who they were in the context of a new world they did not recognize and almost certainly did not trust.
The Mormon Church was not quick to engage in the battle, but was nevertheless relentless once it committed itself; for many of its women, its direction was a lifeline. The unwavering position of the church is evident in the many public speeches, articles, and circulars distributed at the time. However, only by probing this body of discourse—what it said, what it did not say, and what meanings emerged out of familiar patterns—can one understand the true underlying message.
In undertaking a rhetorical analysis of the church’s arguments, the first theme of note is the identification of the ERA as a “moral issue.” Equally important was the message—one lost on most outsiders—to heed the “living prophets,” which meant to obey the church’s leadership—the General Authorities and especially the First Presidency. The backdrop to the anti-ERA statements was the emergence of the so-called Priesthood Correlation Program, simultaneously implemented during the1970s, much to the detriment of the church’s women’s programs. Also of significance was an unexpected alliance between Mormonism and the Religious Right, a surprising development considering the usual theological disagreement and even hostility between Mormons and other conservative religions.
The Rhetorical Construction of ERA Arguments
The Greek philosopher Aristotle described rhetoric–that is, language, whether written, verbal, or visual—as a particular means of persuasion. Contemporary writers who study the uses of rhetoric suggest that it is “the art of manipulating the soul of the hearer through language, whether informative, persuasive, or poetic,” and as “a means of so ordering discourse as to produce an effect on the listener or reader.” Rhetoric is thus “called forth by the exigencies of a problem within a situation in which an audience can mediate change.” Finally, it can be “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”4
Importantly, rhetoric—this particular type of carefully chosen language—is not simply communication but rather the use of language in a way to evoke a desired result. It is a premeditated act of persuasion—an attempt to mobilize one’s audience in a particular direction on a particular issue. Rhetoric is contextual and therefore must adapt to changing times; and this means that by noticing shifts in rhetorical strategies, one sees, among other things, how women fit into Mormonism at various historical moments. The LDS Church’s official policy statements regarding women had cultural, political, and social significance as well as profound weight in the fight against the ERA.
Suppressed gender conflicts are implicit, and ideas about government, theology, and social systems are embedded in the church’s story about women—a story that has taken on mythic dimensions. The assumptions underlying church documents reveal a system of ideas about the role of women and their position in the Mormon world, the significance of their relationships with men, and the theological relation between gendered “duties” and salvation. The church’s statements were written squarely within emotional norms, using familiar vocabularies, and marking boundaries between Mormon and non-Mormon thought with coded language and connotatively freighted terms. The arguments presented instructed women about how they should feel, which experiences to value, and which to shun. They portrayed the ERA as a threat to the sacral world and gave instructions on how to combat those threats. The rules and behaviors governing the everyday lives of Mormon women were situated in a cosmic battlefield of salvation and condemnation—infinitely comforting to some women seeking certainty, infinitely troubling to others who could not dismiss the questions raised by the ERA.
The central rhetorical concern on each side of the verbal battle over the ERA was its potential for change. No one doubted that the amendment would initiate seismic shifts in the cultural landscape. Supporters welcomed these promised changes for their potential to better women’s lives, enhance their personal relationships, improve their ability to care for their children, and open doors to economic and professional opportunities. Opponents saw the same changes as threatening to women’s worlds, destabilizing family life, and leaving women without needed economic and legal protections.
Official instructions to Mormons to eschew the women’s movement in general and the Equal Rights Amendment in particular delineated the tasks and roles necessary to produce both happy and secure families and eternal salvation. Historian Vella Evans suggests that after 1970, the church “retreated deeper into the sanctity of home and motherhood while much of the rest of the nation . . . accepted expanded options for women.”5 Apostle Thomas S. Monson linked “women’s liberation” with woman’s “deception,” pointing to such things as “free child care” and “equal employment” as the obvious “evils of the woman’s movement.”6
Peter James Caulfield, a student of the ERA, suggests that the LDS Church was able to rhetorically exploit “some latent fears and anxieties vis-á-vis several ERA-related issues, e.g., fear of freedom, fear of physical limitations, and fear of physical danger (for women) and fear of loss of power and fear of competition (for men).” At the same time, “pro-ERA forces either underestimated or chose to ignore these same potential fears and anxieties and made [other] rhetorical choices.”7 According to Caulfield, both pro- and anti-ERA rhetoric took advantage of an existing mindset to reinforce assumptions already held:
1. The Equal Rights Amendment represented at least a symbolic challenge to traditional sex roles, which had not only the sanction of centuries, but which crossed virtually all racial, cultural, and religious boundaries. Such a profound challenge contained, in and of itself, great potential for eliciting fear and emotional reactions in many people.
2. Anti-ERA forces accurately perceived and effectively exploited this fear, as well as nostalgia for a more stable, less confusing, safer past felt by many men and women in their audiences.
3. Pro-ERA forces . . . tended to focus their rhetoric on rational, economic arguments and to skim over, trivialize, or altogether ignore the most fear-intensive issues.8
How did the LDS Church build its arguments against the ERA? Its response was more specifically to the larger women’s movement and the image of feminism rather than to the ERA itself. The ERA was the symbolic battleground over feminism in what Caulfield calls a “process by which secular issues become ‘moral’ [and] ‘spiritual’ concerns may be manifest, showing how authoritative discourse may define and form the official Church response [while at the same time] establishing certain constraints that the leadership feels compelled to follow, and afterwards how member response may require the leadership to reevaluate a particular issue.”9
Identifying Moral Issues
The most important positioning strategy was the church’s decision to declare the ERA a “moral issue.” Without access to official minutes or personal reminiscences by church leaders, it is impossible to reconstruct the. thinking and discussion of the First Presidency, which consisted of Presidents Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney. However, it is evident from their statement of October 12, 1978, that for them, the amendment created uncertainty about the future and changing the position of women, thereby threatening the family.
How to distinguish between “moral” and “political” was a fuzzy concept. Members were not invited to participate with leaders in making these decisions. The institutional advantage was that it allowed leaders to determine what was moral without the need for consistency or justification. During the early 1960s, for instance, African-American activists attempted to convince church leaders to take a stand in favor of civil rights, but the First Presidency declined to do so until late 1963, insisting that it was a strictly political issue. President Hugh B. Brown of the church’s First Presidency walked the tricky line of supporting the policy of not ordaining black men to the priesthood but also stating his conviction that discrimination on the basis of race was immoral. At the 1963 general conference he said:
We believe that all men are the children of the same God, and that it is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny any human being the right to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship, just as it is a moral evil to deny him the right to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience. . . . We call upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children.10
Without clearly defined criteria for differentiating moral from political issues, such distinctions depended solely on the judgment of the leadership.
On numerous occasions, LDS leaders stressed that only the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—the two highest governing bodies of the church—could declare a subject to be “moral”— hence worthy of full institutional involvement. Without such a declaration, church members were counseled to use care in distinguishing between what they could do as citizens under the Constitution and what the church could do as an organization.11
In the nineteenth century, Mormons participated freely in local politics with the often counterproductive habit of bloc voting, allowing a dominant position in Illinois politics in the 1840s but contributing to the assassinations of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Abstaining from political involvement seemed less an option in nineteenth-century Utah, especially after it became apparent that most federal appointees in Utah Territory entertained considerable hostility toward the Mormon system. However the dismantling of the church’s political party in 1893 as a condition for statehood and a history of bad experiences in trying to control Utah politics convinced the church that heavy handedness could be politically and socially costly. On most issues, according to political scientist and BYU professor David Magleby, the church “has remained neutral, admonishing its members to study the issues and vote according to their conscience.”12 In 1951 a member of the First Presidency said:
The Church, while reserving the right to advocate principles of good government underlying equity, justice, and liberty, the political integrity of officials, and the active participation of its members, and the fulfillment of their obligations in civic affairs, exercises no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices and affiliations. . . . Any man who makes representation to the contrary does so without authority and justification in fact.13
According to Magleby, the church rarely takes an official stance on candidates or political issues even though its substantial political power, particularly in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada, would allow it to significantly affect elections. In addition, the church wields significant influence through its business and corporate interests. Politically, the church “has been most visible . . . in discussions of moral issues,” Magleby writes, and the church’s policy on the ERA sparked what he characterizes as “significant local organizing by private Church members acting on their own accord against the amendment in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, and Virginia. Not all Church members opposed the amendment. Some had spoken publicly in support of the amendment before the Church position was announced.”14
In an instructional letter to general, regional, and local church leaders on April 1, 1974, the First Presidency of Elders Kimball, Tanner, and Romney wrote that
the Prophet Joseph Smith [founder of the LDS church] has said: “It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound.” While exercising no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices as to political parties, candidates and issues, the Church urges its members as informed citizens of the respective countries to be actively involved in supporting candidates and issues which will protect liberty and strengthen the people who are governed. Freedom demands continuing responsibility.15
Although the presidency did not specify a particular issue in relation to this counsel, it seems likely from the context of the times that they had the Equal Rights Amendment in mind. The responsibility of which they reminded members was to be informed of current issues and sensitive to relevant counsel by church leaders. Still, the final decision about how to act, as this letter reinforced, was left to an individual’s personal conscience after study, reading the scriptures, and prayer. This was the church’s official policy throughout most of the 1970s.
The argument about whether the ERA was moral or political underwent significant refinement through the decade, mostly in the direction of stronger official statements responding to challenges and counterproposals from those who disagreed. On October 12, 1978, the First Presidency again wrote to the church’s general, regional, and local officers—although this list did not include the female auxiliary heads at any level—specifically addressing the Equal Rights Amendment and declaring it a “moral issue.” The First Presidency affirmed the church’s historic respect for women and conviction that they not be discriminated against, but found that “the matter is basically a moral rather than a political issue; and because of our serious concern over these moral implications, we have spoken against ratification, and without equivocation do so again” (see Appendix D).16
The lapse of six years between Congress’s passage of the ERA and this First Presidency statement meant that Mormon authorities had not rushed precipitately into the fray. Rather, they advanced step by step, gradually increasing the authoritativeness of statements and the level from which they came. At this point, however, the only level they refrained from summoning was a joint statement of the First Presidency ar Twelve Apostles or a revelatory document submitted to a general conference for canonization.
The justification for such a strong position was carefully laid out March 1980 in the church’s clearest articulation of its position on the ERA. It quoted an earlier policy statement of June 29, 1979: “Strictly political matters should be left in the field of politics where they belong. However, on moral issues, the church and its members take a positive stand. Latter-day Saints must ever be alert and united in fighting any influence which tends to break down the moral and spiritual strength of the people.” The church had sometimes intervened on issues affecting church members, but “the many and varied circumstances in which our Church members live . . . make it inadvisable for the Church to involve itself institutionally in every local community issue. These challenges are best responded to by members as they meet their obligations as citizens—preferably in concert with other like-minded individuals.” Even more importantly, the statement asserted: “Only the First Presidency and the Twelve can declare a particular issue to be a moral issue worthy of full institutional involvement.“17 This established a precedent for involvement in select issues of the church’s choosing, spelled out who among the leadership had authority to make that decision, limited church involvement to matters the church deemed to be moral, and reasserted citizen action in politics.
Almost certainly for most Mormons, a First Presidency statement was authoritative on any issue, but it was also considered necessary when previous church leaders had seemed to have made contradictory pronouncements on a topic. For some Mormons, a church statement was to be weighted against ultimate principles and the individual was to decide how it squared with issues of equity and justice. But there were far fewer such Mormons. In addition, in a long history of authoritative statements from the male leadership, women were only occasionally consulted but had to live in the particular situations created by such statements.
Rhetorically, the Mormon discourse was one of cause and effect, of promise and warning, drawn from the larger national debate. Across the country, anti-ERA forces spoke with a carefully articulated point of view that warned consistently, though often vaguely, of dire negative consequences to women and the safety of their families. In the case of STOP ERA, this strategy was symbolized by the position taken by Phyllis Schlafly. The same arguments filtered down to Mormon audiences: vulnerability to a military draft (a telling issue, given the nightmare of Vietnam jungles); the destabilization of domestic relations, linked to the rising rates of divorce and illegitimate pregnancy;18 and tension between federal and state authority. Those who advanced such arguments cast themselves rhetorically as defenders of cherished values and characterized their opponents as militant, bra-burning, radical man-haters who insisted on abortion on demand.
ERA supporters tended to be less cohesive and spoke in a variety of voices ranging from intemperate to reasoned but often stressing the probable social, economic, and educational benefits of the amendment. They cited the gradual historic emergence of women from non-personhood and oppression to the present, stressed the values to children and men of a more egalitarian society, and portrayed themselves as champions of equality for all women, including women of color and the poor.
Aristotle counseled that, in structuring persuasive public speech, one should find “common places” in which to locate arguments, making them accessible and acceptable. It is not surprising that pro- and anti-ERA forces claimed a proprietary interest in domestic relations, the proper role of government, morality, and social cohesion. Caulfield identified ten themes over which women on both sides wrestled in their public discourse:
1. The nature of men and boys.
2. The nature of women and girls.
3. The structure of the family.
4. The role of religion.
5. The role of law.
6. The nature of morality.
7. The economic situation of women in relation to men.
8. What is just or unjust with regard to women and men.
9. The nature of opponents.
10. And the past, present, and future in relation to all of the above.19
For most Mormons, the living prophets had answers to all of these questions. The official statements and public addresses given by church leaders between 1976 and 1980 linked the appropriate roles of men and women, girls and boys, to God’s will as manifest in human creation. Anchoring traditional Mormon ideas about the differences between male and female and the meaning of those differences in biblical tradition, men were to be protectors and wage earners while women were to be nurturers and supporters, dependent on their husbands for financial support. Boys and girls were to be trained to do and expect the same. The stability of the family, the most basic institution of society, depended on it. Divorce, homosexual marriage, and nontraditional families were proof positive of the efficacy of this point and were linked to virtually every social ill—juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, poverty, and religious apostasy. In fact, religion rather than social mores or currents was the only true and legitimate authority. Those who looked to secular structures were misguided and inevitably would end up with heartache. From the official Mormon position, localized legal solutions to questions about equality best served the needs of nuclear families. What advanced the good of families, most simply, in the context of the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment was the moral good. The opponent was a gaggle of feminists, representing the fears and anticipated disasters that would follow a Constitutional amendment altering the status of women in American society.20
Authority in Mormon Discourse
It is important to understand how Mormon women heard these LDS statements from various levels of the church organization over the next decade. In addition to basic scriptures—the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price—the church’s general authorities are considered to be a source of modern revelation when they speak under inspiration of the Holy Spirit during semi-annual general conferences and other forums. The conventional position of faith was that such instructions are to be taken as God’s word with the binding force of ancient scripture.
Throughout the 1970s, several themes running through the body of official church literature created boundaries between Mormons and the secular world, including sharper behavioral guidelines and specific responses to political situations. In 1984 sociologist brothers Gary and Gordon Shepherd published an analysis of the themes addressed in LDS general conference addresses from 1830 to 1979. The burden of church leadership, they asserted, was to “identify and articulate the sources of people’s discontent, to define courses of remedial action, and to mobilize individuals to become personally committed in pursuit of a common cause.” To keep the church relevant to the member’s experiences, it was imperative to continue this tradition, and rhetorical persuasion attempted to create and maintain “definitions of reality which simultaneously disparage alternative definitions.”21 Because of the belief in revelation and the nature of priesthood authority embedded in the organizational structure, such “definitions of reality” have had profound significance:
The ultimate source of Mormonism’s unity and sense of uniqueness lies in its transcendent religious beliefs: the belief in its own sacred history as God’s chosen people, in its own sacred community as the Kingdom of God or one true church, and in the sacred guidance of its authoritarian leadership. The fundamental task of Mormon leadership is, in fact, to preserve these beliefs.22
The alternate waxing and waning of various rhetorical trends over time reflects tensions within the church, conflicts the leadership has addressed, and steps enjoined upon members to ensure greater strength and unity. For example, themes such as building of the Kingdom of God (or Zion) on Earth and a preoccupation with the Utopian nature of Mormon society were routine subjects during the nineteenth century. So were descriptions of doctrines and practices that distinguished Mormons from other churches, especially the second coming of Jesus Christ and millennialism. Both themes virtually disappeared after 1920, the decade when “modern Mormonism” made an accommodation to secular authority.23 In contrast to these time-bound topics, the Shepherds found that “personal morality” has been a favorite subject of church speakers and has had an expansive meaning that includes sexual morality, family values, and decisions about lifestyles that impact the family. The changing conditions that seemed to threaten morality elicited repeated warnings to avoid risky situations, dangerous practices, and temptations from unworthy individuals. The Shepherds found that the family received its most intense emphasis during two specific time periods: 1890-1919 as Mormonism negotiated its passage out of polygamy and 1950-79. They concluded:
Today the Mormon nuclear family, rather than Zion or the Kingdom of God, appears to have become the major sociological frame of reference for conference speakers. The Mormon Church is portrayed as serving the basic needs of the family, and the family in turn is defined as the basis of the Church. Traditionally family life (in which the father is head of the house, children respect and obey their parents, and parents set a proper example for their children while inculcating the basic principles of their religious faith) is legitimated as a divine institution which must be strengthened as a bulwark against what are perceived to be the disintegrating forces and immoralities of the modern secular age.24
With the termination of public support for new plural marriages in 1890, followed by Utah statehood six years later, Mormonism moved during the early twentieth century from the status of sect to that of a church. German sociologist Max Weber described a sect as a marginal religious movement whose members see themselves as functioning separate from, and in opposition to, secular society. A church, on the other hand, functions as an accommodating body.25 This distinction provides insight into the relationship between religious identity and a church’s response to secular society. The idea of a church as an accommodating body demonstrates how groups allot religious authority on the basis of gender. Moreover, sects typically exhibit radical departures from traditional values and mores. But as a sect changes and adapts, it becomes more of a mainstream church. So likewise “do its margins and its concepts of marginality.”26
In an important analogous case, sociologist Laura L. Vance in her Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis argued that during this process of moving from sect to church, the status of Adventist women shifted, but not in the direction of greater opportunities. When the Seventh-day Adventist church was organized in 1863, women initially held leadership positions and contributed significantly to the formation of community. But over the next several decades, women lost leadership positions as Adventism became less radical and more mainstream. This retreat during the same period when the women’s rights movement was gathering momentum moved Adventism to the conservative end of American society where women were concerned. In short, between 1863 and the beginning of the twentieth century, Seventh-day Adventist women lost power, influence, and position, which were part of the cost of becoming a church.27
Nine Major Mormon Anti-ERA Documents
Even before the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress in May 1972, the LDS church viewed the women’s movement with suspicion and attacked the proposed changes feminists were advocating, calling Mormon women back to their home responsibilities. The church took a highly conservative position with three cautious concessions. First, abortion was permissible in instances of rape or incest. Second, despite the primacy of a mother’s influence, especially on preschool children, the church, after some hesitation, determined that single mothers should be employed and, as much as possible, self-sustaining. Third, the church intensified its long history of encouraging education for young women even though, as one feminist wryly remarked, it still subscribed to the “mattress theory”—that education was something to fall back on in times of need rather than as part of a life plan that combined marriage, children, and careers.
Except for these concessions, the church’s position was firm. The duality of viewpoints that saw women as properly making individual choices for themselves when victimized, in need, or in aspiring for personal growth versus the limited ideal role for women influenced the debate over the ERA. However, as the issue became increasingly entrenched in church policies, programs, and doctrines, the polarization became agonizingly sharp, especially when the amendment was sent to the states for ratification.
One can best see the progression of thinking about these issues in the nine documents the church produced in the 1970s and early 1980s. In these documents, the church established its position and advertised it to the membership. These were, first, an address by Relief Society President Barbara B. Smith and an unsigned editorial in the Church News, which seemed to test the waters before the issuance of two First Presidency statements (with variations), an unsigned but lengthy pamphlet inserted in the Ensign magazine, an editorial by a church public relations director, an interview with Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley, and two addresses by church apostles.
Barbara B. Smith address, 1974
The opening salvo was fired by the smallest gun, at least in terms of constitutional authority. On December 13, 1974, only two weeks after publication of survey data showing that most Utahns favored the Equal Rights Amendment, Barbara Bradshaw Smith spoke to a large gathering of students at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Chosen to make the church’s first public statement against the ERA, she called it “so broad that it is inadequate, inflexible and vague; so all-encompassing that it is non-definitive”—a quotation from the church’s in-house position statement of November 1974 (see chap. 5).28 According to one observer, Smith’s statement was neither definitive nor bold, but one of “cautious restraint due to the fact that the amendment was up for a legislative vote in January of 1975.”29
Agreeing that social wrongs against women needed to be corrected, Smith cautioned that the ERA was the incorrect approach because it would “nullify all laws covering the gamut of domestic relations in such matters as financial liability of a father to support his wife and children, or the awarding of custody of children in divorce actions, which now provide favorable treatment for women.” Moreover, the ERA would mandate the military draft of women and deny the right of privacy, according to her prediction. Instead of this “blanket” approach, she said, she would recommend trusting state legislatures and courts to protect women.
The rhetorical strategies in her address reflected the same approach laid out in the church’s official policy the month before. It would be the pattern in church publications from that point forward. First, a mental picture “of dire consequences was suggested whereby the balance of traditional family life and the good of individual women would be disrupted. The image of women in combat was an even more frightening picture at the time. Smith focused on what were said to be structural inadequacies—that the amendment was too vague or too broad, implying that it was weakly considered. As law, it may have been well intended, but was poorly designed and based on faulty premises.30 This reasonable rather than emotional appeal lent credibility to Smith’s position, suggesting that she had a privileged or superior understanding of the issues.
Although the logic of having the head of the women’s auxiliary speak on a woman’s issue might seem unexceptional, it was highly symbolic for Mormonism. The church was situating a woman to establish the rhetorical pattern for defending traditional values and roles for women. Throughout the 1970s, Smith would play an increasingly difficult role: acknowledging the realities of women’s lives, including some of their unmet needs, while representing the official church position. The mother of seven, she had never been employed outside of the home, but her extensive executive experience in church service prepared her for this leadership role. Much of what she would do during those years centered on mobilizing women who were inexperienced in political processes, unfamiliar with political issues, and generally unaware of the significance of the rhetoric or the reality behind the debate. It was a difficult position, but she managed it by taking a position of unequivocal loyalty to the official stance.
Fifteen months later, the church’s next public statement appeared in the annual “women’s” issue of the Ensign—the March edition, based on the Relief Society’s founding in March 1842. Subtitled “Special: Women and the Church,” this 1976 issue included two rhetorically significant messages. The first was from church president Spencer W Kimball, who described the “promise and potential” of the Relief Society as that of an increasing service in the home and the community. The second was an interview with Barbara Smith.
To President Smith, the Relief Society was evidence that God valued the contribution of women and had included them in his plan for the earth. “In periods of eternity when the gospel flourishes,” she commented, “the women were and are organized for righteous purposes. This great Relief Society movement is a part of the restoration of all things promised by the prophets of old.” Calling the Relief Society a “movement” rather than an organization or an auxiliary positioned it as parallel to the women’s liberation movement, which was by itself an interesting rhetorical strategy. She defined a two-fold purpose for the movement: “compassionate service” and “programs of ongoing education.”
Responding to a question about her position on the ERA, she quoted the church’s position statement: the amendment was “inadequate, inflexible, and vague; so all-encompassing that it is nondefinitive.” The ERA, she asserted, is “a confused step backward in time, instead of a clear stride forward into the future.” Stepping out of the rhetorical stance established by the First Presidency, she captured with her own language the hope of LDS women in the face of the changes threatened by feminism. Within the Mormon context, she wished the best for women in leading lives of power, influence, and participation; but she wanted such achievements to occur within an appropriate arena as proscribed and approved by the church hierarchy and sustained by doctrine:
I will always support—as I believe the Relief Society and the Church have always done—pieces of legislation that improve and protect woman’s right to development of her full potential as a contributing member of society. I want women to have social, financial, and legal rights; I want each woman to be a valued individual, creative, and with as many options as she will develop. I want to see a woman become the best woman, the best citizen, responsible and anticipating, both in her own country and in the kingdom of God, the best homemaker, the great individual she is capable of becoming. I want her to be self-confident, trained, a great participating partner in life, but I want to be sure that the bill enacted will provide for these things to happen. The Equal Rights Amendment is not the way.31
Rhetorically, her arguments were well suited to persuading her audience that it made good sense to oppose the amendment. Only by opposing it would they see her dream materialize of a civically active, informed homemaker who was loyal to her church, her family, and her country. How could anyone argue?
Church News editorial, 1975
When the ERA was first presented to the Utah legislature in January 1973, it failed by eighteen votes.32 Proponents marshaled forces to submit it in the January 1975 legislative session when its chances of success seemed stronger. Interestingly, the church-owned Deseret News published a poll on November 15, 1974, which asked: “Are you in favor or not in favor of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment?” Sixty-five percent said they were in favor of passage. Among LDS respondents, 63.1 percent supported the ERA.33 The poll seemed to galvanize the LDS general authorities into action. Before the church entered the debate, the ERA had significant support in the legislature. But on January 12, 1975, when an editorial appeared in the Church News in opposition to the ERA, everything changed. This was the first in a series of statements over the next five years that would officially establish the church’s opinion, lay out the arguments, and justify involvement in a political campaign because of the moral questions involved.
Beginning by referencing the organization of the Relief Society in nineteenth-century Nauvoo, Illinois, and establishing the church’s position “in the forefront of those who have taught the dignified and exalted place of women,” it described the church’s programs to enhance women’s status “as daughters of God” and its support of legislation that would “safeguard the welfare of women, the home and the family.” Aligning itself with the protectionist camp, the church asserted that women over time had received “special protection and the status properly due them” including “equality of opportunity in political, civil and economic spheres.”
The editorial’s effect was to retroactively legitimize three statements, it quoted. These were the public positions of the immediate past president of the Relief Society, Belle Smith Spafford, the current president, Barbara B. Smith, and a secular source–the Nation’s Business. Structured in a way to appeal to logic, sentiment, conviction, and loyalty, the editorial asserted that men and women are different because God made them so. “Each has his or her role. One is incomplete without the other.”34
It was significant that the editorial quoted a national business periodical in order to anchor the church’s position. The editorial agreed with the Nation’s Business that the amendment was “unnecessary, uncertain, undesirable.” Continuing, the editorial further quoted: “It seems . . . highly doubtful that the people desire any such thing as ‘unisex’ in their law. But if five more states ratify the pending amendment, that is what the people will get.”35 This was an argument that, over time, would be refined, coded, and finally included in pamphlet literature, public addresses, and other more informal sources to circulate throughout the church.
Irene Fisher, head of Utahns for ERA and the League of Women Voters, reported at a press conference that four independent polls in January showed thirty-four legislators in support of the amendment, thirty-two opposed, and nine undecided.36 According to Fisher, the numbers were negatively affected by the editorial in the Church News. Speaking at the same press conference, Lowell Bennion, a highly respected Mormon educator and community activist, noted with uncanny prescience that the only statement that could affect public policy was one from the First Presidency.37 His intent was to offer reassurance that the church had not officially opposed the ERA. However, the LDS church was moving slowly but surely to close that loophole.
In Logan, Utah, the Herald Journal saw the church’s stance as a death knell for the ERA. “The Mormon Church’s attack on the Equal Rights Amendment hit the Utah Legislature like an artillery shell—scattering in all directions and killing any chance of ratification.”38 Straw polls just before the legislative session opened indicated that the ERA was only a few votes short of passage.39 A week later, support had evaporated. Tarnished as “not only imperfect but dangerous,” the amendment came before the House of Representatives only to go down, 21 to 54. Utah became the second state that week to defeat the ERA, along with Georgia.40
First Presidency statement, 1976
It slowly became apparent that Barbara B. Smith, though the highest-ranking woman in the church, did not have sufficient authority to maintain a united front among Mormon women. On October 22, 1976, the First Presidency issued its first direct, public statement backing up Smith’s efforts to identify the ERA as a moral issue, proclaim the church’s opposition, and marshal members to fight ratification. Apparently vague warnings against unknown social changes had not been effective, so the statement presented a more specific goal for preserving the family: defeating the ERA. The First Presidency instructed Latter-day Saints to “join actively with other citizens who share our concerns and who are engaged in working to reject this measure on the basis of its threat to the moral climate of the future.” If the ERA were ratified, the First Presidency—Elders Kimball, Tanner, and Romney—predicted, it would undoubtedly lead to further interpretations that could “demean women rather than ennoble them, and that would threaten the stability of the family which is a creation of God.” Exactly how such demeaning family destabilization would occur was not spelled out, nor did the letter claim prophetic vision regarding future disintegration.
Nevertheless, the statement allowed little room for supporters to reply. The church had preempted the claim of moral guidance for the faithful, and this was sufficient for most members. Still, others looked for a sign that this was God’s word and not political meddling.41 The statement first appeared in the Church News, which many Salt Lakers receive in their daily newspaper; it was then published verbatim in the December Ensign magazine, which reached the national LDS audience.
The four themes addressed by the First Presidency, which were destined to be repeated over and over again in the coming months, were that the ERA (1) strikes at the heart of the family, (2) renders social relationships ambiguous, (3) nullifies laws protecting women, and (4) ignores the natural differences between men and women. This seminal statement reads in full:
From its beginnings, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has affirmed the exalted role of woman in our society.
In 1842, when women’s organizations were little known, the Prophet Joseph Smith established the women’s organization of the Church, the Relief Society, as a companion body of the priesthood. The Relief Society continues to function today as a vibrant, worldwide organization aimed at strengthening motherhood and broadening women’s earning and involvement in religious, compassionate, cultural, educational, and community pursuits.
In Utah, where our Church is headquartered, women received the right to vote in 1870, fifty years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted the right nationally.
There have been injustices for women before the law and in society generally. These we deplore.
There are additional rights to which women are entitled.
However, we firmly believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is not the answer.
While the motives of its supporters may be praiseworthy, ERA as blanket attempt to help women could indeed bring them far more restraints and repressions. We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts.
It would strike at the family, humankind’s basic institution. ERA would bring ambiguity and possibly invite extensive litigation.
Passage of ERA, some legal authorities contend, could nullify many cumulated benefits to women in present statutes.
We recognize men and women as equally important before the Lord, but with differences biologically, emotionally, and in other ways.
ERA, we believe, does not recognize these differences. There are better means for giving women, and men, the rights they deserve.42
The rhetorical strategy and evidence presented here would become routine during the next five years. Notice that the statement begins with credentials in women’s issues in the respectable history of LDS involvement with the Relief Society, the church’s female arm, which the statement says was formed to strengthen “motherhood” and extend the influence of women into the community. In citing Utah’s record as one of the first states to give women the vote, the church positions itself at the center of the earlier women’s movement as a champion of gender rights, claiming for itself a sort of authority to judge the appropriateness of legal issues involving social inequities. The statement establishes, as well, the church’s position on the differences between men and women, asserting “God-given feminine instincts.” The picture of the future if the ERA were passed is one of damaged families, cancellation of the benefits of law, and women left in precarious and vulnerable positions socially with their feminine attributes “stifled.” Against this dismaying image, the unequivocal “We firmly believe the Equal Rights Amendment is not the answer” rings prophetic—words of priesthood leaders utilizing logic coupled with religious emotion and stated as an article of faith. Without question, the statement evoked a powerful response among the church’s faithful.
The First Presidency’s invocation of “feminine instincts” appealed not only to nature but to theology. This theme—unavoidable gender differences inviolably linked to salvation—runs through other rhetorical arguments that will be subsequently employed. Perhaps just as important in terms of the political environment was the fact that this belief marked a boundary between Mormons and outsiders. It established the church as the defender of women in the context of God’s plan for them, including the right of married women to be financially supported. Feminists felt patronized, while traditionalists felt protected.
Apostle Boyd K. Packer speech, 1977
The fourth rhetorically important document appeared only a few weeks after the First Presidency statement. On January 8, 1977, Apostle Boyd K. Packer spoke to a meeting sponsored by opponents of the proposed amendment in Pocatello, Idaho.43 The Church News reported the event and the Ensign published the address. Elder Packer, saying his intention was to present how he “thinks” and “feels” about the ERA, chose his language and imagery carefully. He said that “of course” the church engages in public issues that are “basically moral and spiritual. This is that kind of an issue,” he said about the ERA, locating the topic within the field of the Mormon gospel. Still, most of his arguments drew on logic rather than emotion, acknowledging that there were inequalities between men and women, but reiterating that the ERA was not the means “to remedy them.” He read the official statement of November 1976 in full, then added his interpretation.
Packer included an emotional strategy to attract his listeners’ attention by telling the story of a child sick with the highly contagious but not serious disease of chicken pox. A neighbor family, wanting to get the inevitable over quickly, exposed their son to the sick child. Unfortunately, the first child had smallpox, not chicken pox, and the second child died. Packer warned: “How often it is that our solutions become problems.”44 He applied this to Title IX of the Education Amendment Act, one of fewer than forty words, he noted, that had nevertheless resulted in “regulations put together at sublevels in the bureaucracy [which] amounted to about 20,000 words!”45 In much the same way, the ERA would be interpreted in ways no one could foresee, he argued.
The apostle then delineated key issues that would become central to the campaign against the ERA and the women’s movement in general, some of which had already been defined: The ERA violated God-ordained differences between men and women, moved the power of interpreting the laws on sex discrimination from the states to the federal courts, and threatened the integrity of the family. Although he attempted to present these dispassionately, the same ideas would become a source of fear and anxiety over the next few years, mushrooming in importance and rhetorical power. Regardless of whether they made sense or were realistic, the arguments would become accepted as true and would be further embellished with more layers of rhetorical flourishes.
As the church’s representative, Elder Packer’s main objection nevertheless seemed to be that too much power would be granted the federal government. “The bigger the government becomes,” he said, “the more lost we are as individuals. Somehow, always under the notion that our rights are being protected, webs are combined with threads, and threads are added to strings, and strings are fashioned into cords, and cords into ropes, and ropes into bonds.”46 He felt the gradual shift of sex discrimination cases from state to federal courts had already led the country down a rosy path and that the ERA would compound the problem with “anti-family and unisex values” that would “deprive lawmakers and government officials alike of the right by legal means to honor the vital differences in the roles of men and women.”47
This last theme was already central in the church’s opposition to the ERA. “When God created male and female,” he asserted, “He gave each important differences in physical attributes, in emotional composition, in family responsibility. We must protect and honor the vital differences in the roles of men and women, especially in respect to the family.” The problems the ERA sought to resolve, Elder Packer said, were not in the rights of women per se but “the strength and stability of the American home—in the spiritual and moral and emotional health of families.”48
Reaffirmation by the First Presidency, 1978
The church took a different approach on May 25, 1978, when it issued a press release titled “Reaffirmation of the First Presidency’s Position on ERA,” which appeared in the Church News and Ensign.49 The immediate purpose of the news release was to respond to the proposed time extension for ratification, which the church called “tampering with and an abuse of the process of amendment.” It reiterated the church’s position that “men and women [are] equally important before the Lord and the law,” then answered three frequently asked questions. Why had the church become involved? It was because the leadership “believe ERA is a moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members and as a whole.”
What were the church’s objections to the ERA? Here the news release provided an updated version of the church’s 1976 statement. Resorting again to legal arguments, the church stressed that women’s rights would most successfully be guaranteed “individually under appropriate specific laws.” The ERA was not, according to this line of reasoning, “the proper means for achieving those rights.” In fact, building on the extreme predictions that had become part of the rhetorical approach, the church foresaw a “unisex” society in which there would be “an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.”
Other themes raised against the ERA, although not particularly different from the previous church statement, included the amendment’s “deceptively simple language” and how it would “strike at the family” to create “ambiguity to the family structure”—meaning the family structure wherein a man presided over wife and children. The ERA failed to recognize biological and emotional differences in men and women, the statement continued, and “could nullify many accumulated benefits to women and children” in present statutes.
The third question, apparently asked by news media, was what alternatives were desirable for women beyond being a wife and mother. In response, the church emphasized “free agency,” a strategy articulated for the first time in an official statement:
Latter-day Saint women, from the beginning of the Church and continuing today, know how deeply the Church encourages them to exercise their free agency. They also know that in the Church, or in any organization or activity for that matter, free agency must be coupled with responsibility. Individual freedom without such responsibility leads to chaos. Latter-day Saint women are strongly encouraged to develop their individual talents, to broaden their learning and to expand their contributions to activities such as religious, governmental, cultural, educational, and community pursuits.
The statement concluded with the procedural argument about tampering “with and abus[ing] the process of amending the Constitution,” although it provided no explanation for this extraordinary statement. More importantly, the statement linked abuse of the amendment process with the predicted social reordering if the ERA were adopted: “We express confidence that this nation is sufficiently strong and fair to be able to resolve problems of inequality and unfairness to women, or to any other group in our society, without abusing the amending process of our most basic document, the Constitution, as outlined above, and without undermining our most basic institution, the family.”
Closely related to this “Reaffirmation” was a May 24,1979, First Presidency letter to the chair of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. In it, the church asserted its public position and then added some secular arguments designed to appeal to a general sense of justice. The letter offered that the ERA would “divide and polarize this nation,” that “it is unfair to the interests of women,” and more interestingly that it “lacks the powerful consensus of that very large majority of people in the United States.” Accordingly, extension of the ratification deadline would prove to be “deeply offensive to any sense of fairness.”50 Appealing to respect for the higher public good, the church predicted that the ERA would split the country and threaten its legal foundations, privileging one faction or the other. The church drew on imagery rooted in the Federalist Papers for this argument. Fair procedures, as protected by the Constitution, should not be distorted for the benefit of a single party over the interests of the group.
Public relations editorial, 1979
Although the sixth statement holds none of the authoritative power of the earlier official statements, it indicates how persuasive the viewpoint had become. In a brief editorial appearing in the Royalton Guard, a newspaper published near Cardston, Alberta, Canada, on November 28, 1979, Randall V. Douglass, a local public communications director for the church, clarified what he said were misconceptions about the church’s position. This was a week before the excommunication of Sonia Johnson on December 5. Douglass opened with a statement of the church’s “profound veneration for the Constitution of the United States of America” and the importance of safeguarding one’s Constitutional rights, as well as a “deep and everlasting commitment to the preservation and strengthening of the family, including its individual members.” Quoting Relief Society President Barbara Smith, he wrote: “We don’t oppose equal rights for women. We want women everywhere to have full social, financial and legal rights. We want each woman to be a valued individual, creative, and with many options as to how she will develop. We would like to eradicate laws and practices unfair to women and men, while still keeping laws that provide for their special needs.” As Smith herself had insisted: “ERA is not a panacea for all that remains to be accomplished . . . . It would lock the U.S. Supreme Court into making decisions which might be harmful to women.”
Douglass closed with a reference to suffrage, stating that Mormon women “were given the religious vote” from the first. Curiously, instead of referring to political suffrage or citing the successful battle of nineteenth-century Mormon women for voting rights, he cited voting privileges as a manifestation of church membership, a technique that nevertheless had a dual rhetorical effect. First, for the non-Mormon audience, this made the LDS Church seem liberal, as a church that had always included women in its governance; but second, for Mormon readers, it overlaid the political ballot with the ecclesiastical “vote,” a perfunctory ritual lacking any real impact on church governance but with the possible implication that this was something church members should approve in the same way—by vote of confirmation, in which there is rarely a negative vote cast.51
Douglass’s editorial is a good example of the power of rhetoric to present a rewritten historical consensus. In the nineteenth century, Mormon feminists like Emmeline B. Wells and Zina Diantha Huntington Young engaged in the women’s movement with full confidence that they were not only fulfilling their God-given role to build a better world but that they were also contributing to the kingdom of God. Suffrage, for the nineteenth-century Mormon woman, was part of a larger design that included economic and social reforms in search of the just society. So positive and, in fact, noble was this pursuit that Eliza R. Snow called on Bathsheba Smith and others to travel throughout the church preaching the gospel of women’s rights. While some Americans criticized women like Susan B. Anthony, branding them “masculine” and “crude,” Mormon women admired them and fostered their friendship.
Even though Douglass could have seen the 1970s women’s movement as part of this honorable religious and political heritage, he chose to appropriate the historic form by acknowledging women’s ability to vote in religious congregations with men. By changing the content from personal and social betterment to defense of the home and family, this interpretation—by Douglass and by the church in its various statements—obliterated one of the chief concerns of Mormonism’s foremothers: the quest for equality with men. It positioned feminism as a new development, possibly no older than the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. This simplistic understanding tarnished feminism’s goals as wholly sinister and evil. The small group of Mormon women who had some understanding of historic Mormon feminism saw the ERA as an irresistible continuation of their heritage and were caught flat-footed when traditional women saw that history as irrelevant, faced with clear marching orders from church leaders. Nor was this handful of women historians and intellectuals successful in launching effective countermeasures, either educational or along the lines of public relations.52
Church pamphlet, 1980
The seventh and perhaps most influential document appeared in March 1980 when each adult female member of the church received her own copy of The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue, a formal articulation of the ERA policy. More than a statement read from the pulpit or advice given in a Relief Society lesson, this twenty-three-page pamphlet, bound in gray card stock and printed in a traditional typeface, was designed to look serious. For some, the fact that no authors were identified roused suspicion; for others, by now accustomed to church manuals written by unidentified committees, the anonymity reinforced its authoritativeness.53
Despite its intended aim, the pamphlet’s text was never as clear or straightforward as it represented itself to be. It expanded on the already familiar arguments by interweaving church and other statements from other contexts and applying them to this situation, along with distinct cultural nuances. A section of the pamphlet, summarizing the belief that the amendment was “unwise, unnecessary and uncertain,” was primarily legalistic; it decried the attempt to shift power from the states to the federal government and asserted that existing statutes already protected women and accomplished the same things the ERA proposed to do. The uncertain future impact of the ERA was noted: the prediction of a unisex society that condoned immoral lifestyle changes. The back cover of the pamphlet contained a list of instructions titled “What Mormon Women Can Do.”
1. Become well informed. We must educate ourselves about these important issues. Then act and vote intelligently.
2. Make our views known in every appropriate way.
3. Form or join responsible citizens’ groups.
4. Actively support political candidates who are honest and trustworthy and who oppose the Equal Rights Amendment.
5. Vote and act as individual concerned citizens.
Also provided were names and addresses of local, state, and federal representatives. The document concluded with a brief admonition from church leaders to study and pray about the information: “Then we want you to act accordingly.” Clearly, the intended result was a united and determined front against the ERA.54
Interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, 1980
Three months later, after Mormon women received the March 1980 pamphlet, the June issue of PSA Magazine published an interview with LDS apostle and future church president Gordon B. Hinckley.55 In it, the journalist questioned Elder Hinckley about “the Equal Rights Amendment, priesthood for the blacks,56. . . the church’s expanding role in the America of the eighties,” and the practice of excommunication. This last question sprang from Sonia Johnson’s widely publicized excommunication the previous December (see chap. 11). Elder Hinckley stated that Johnson’s bishop had “made it clear that ERA was not a matter at issue in the hearings.” Rather, he said, the bishop had taken action because Johnson was “ridiculing some doctrines of the church, and, at least in one speech, was considered to be hindering the missionary effort of the church.” Hinckley dismissed the notion that Mormon women were unhappy with the church’s ERA stance. “I don’t think the women of the church are worrying about it,” he said comfortably. “Those on the outside may be, but I don’t think the women of the church are. The women I see in the church don’t feel the slightest concern over that situation. They have major responsibilities. We don’t demean them or put them off to one side. My wife said just the other evening, ‘I’d like to know where all these dissatisfied women are.'”57
Hinckley was a member of the Special Affairs Committee set up by the church in 1974 to “monitor public policy proposals,” according to historian Thomas G. Alexander. In essence a lobbying organization, the committee, although not supporting specific candidates, offered “vigorous and open support or opposition for measures they considered moral issues.”58 Later called the Public Affairs Committee, the group comprised Hinckley, himself a conservative Republican, conservative Democrat James E. Faust, and Neal A. Maxwell, among other church leaders. Because of Hinckley’s key position in terms of the church’s campaign against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, his attitudes toward women were of particular interest.
The rhetorical effect of his approach was to minimize the perceived problem, communicating amusement rather than concern about feminism. Particularly significant is the ease with which this general authority spoke for the women of the church, appropriating female discourse in sweeping generalizations about what “the women I see” thought and felt and personalizing it with the homey example of his wife’s statement. No doubt what Hinckley said was truthful and sincere. The women he saw were a small group—the wives or other relatives of other male Mormon elites—and hence most likely to be satisfied by the status quo. It is also true that these women received significant responsibilities within the limited spheres allotted to Mormon women. Hinckley’s own daughter, Virginia Hinckley Pearce, would serve for five years (1992-97) as first counselor in the general presidency of Young Women, an auxiliary that instructed teenage girls in church teachings, and would later be appointed to the board of directors of Deseret Book. His stepmother, Mary Green Hinckley, had earlier (1940-43) served as general president of the organization for Mormon children, the Primary Association.
Ezra Taft Benson address, 1981
The ninth rhetorically important document came from the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and future president of the church Ezra Taft Benson. For working women, his address in the October 1981 general conference was a source of endless guilt and confusion. Throughout his address, he expressed concern, love, and regard for the church’s women, whom he called “choice women—daughters of our Heavenly Father.” As president of the Quorum of the Twelve, he spoke with authority couched in terms of kindly paternalism, laying out the definition of the “honored place of women in the eternal plan of our Heavenly Father while the “world is increasing in wickedness. Temptations are greater than they have ever been in the memory of any of us.” The direction this world was headed, he said, was according to the design of “Satan” to “thwart the plan” of God. As outlined in this speech, the appropriate role of a woman was to be a companion with the priesthood in a complementary association, as a helpmeet to her husband. This pattern was prescribed by God before the world began. A woman’s principal role, he said, was as a mother and teacher of her children. She should create a home that is a “haven of security” and love. Implying that feminist messages, or what he called the “beguiling voices of the world,” were “propaganda that will attempt to convince women there are more exciting things to do than stay at home and mother her children,” he asserted forcefully: “It is a misguided idea that a woman should leave the home, where there is [sic] a husband and children, to prepare educationally and financially for an unforeseen eventuality.”
The female sphere, in Benson’s view, was delineated by the limited roles for which women were suited. “Radiate a spirit of contentment and joy with homemaking,” he urged. “You teach by example your attitude toward homemaking. . . . Homemaking is the highest, most noble, profession to which a woman might aspire. Provide your daughters with opportunities to develop their own skills, by allowing them to bake, cook, sew, and arrange their own rooms.” But even more importantly, it was best for women to remember that the female sphere is subordinate to the male sphere: “Support, encourage, and strengthen your husband in his responsibility as patriarch in the home. You are partners with him. A woman’s role in a man’s life is to lift him, to help him uphold lofty standards, and to prepare through righteous living to be his queen for all eternity.”59
The basic rhetorical structure of this homily involved an appeal to the existing hierarchal order, first establishing himself as the central authority as a church leader, patriarch, caring father, and one who understood the Bible. A woman could measure herself against this forcefully described standard. Was she worthy of the blessings of heaven? The apostle’s connection between Satan and the current “beguiling” voices that could tease a woman away from her appropriate role suggested that activities outside the home were sinful; thus a working woman or an over-educated woman would be doomed to an unhappy life. The cult of true womanhood never had a more eloquent spokesman than in this twentieth-century prophet.
The nine documents show the LDS Church, beginning in November 1976 and moving to October 1981, as it developed and refined its message with increasing authoritativeness. The net effect was to position the coming political campaign on an ideological foundation, provide ammunition for grass-roots campaign teams, and to light the fire of righteous indignation in women so they would go forth trusting that the moral high ground was in defeating the ERA.
The women’s movement coincided with a structural development within the Mormon Church that influenced the role of women and their status in relation to men. Investigative reporters Robert Gottlieb and Peter Wiley in American Saints: The Rise of Mormon Power saw anxiety about the women’s movement as part of the reason for Priesthood Correlation, a program that subordinated the women’s auxiliaries to oversight by the Brethren and created mechanisms to increase church influence on individual families.60 Sociologist Marie Cornwall saw women as “innocent bystanders,” not targeted but wounded in the effort to streamline and rationalize the organization both at headquarters and in the field.61
Beginning seriously in the 1950s, the correlation movement was headed by Apostle Harold B. Lee, who became church president in July 1972. He had long been interested in this kind of reorganization. As chair of the Correlation Committee, formally organized in the 1960s, he had led the effort to standardize church doctrine, programs, and policies, ostensibly to bolster the family. As early as 1964 when David 0. McKay was still president, Elder Lee explained at general conference: “We have endeavored to proceed . . . in an orderly and logical manner: first, by placing the priesthood quorums as the Lord has directed us in his revelations; second, by giving strength to the home; and third, by a total correlation of the curriculum and activities of all the organization, priesthood, auxiliaries, institutions, and seminaries.”62
From that point on, regardless of where a member lived, the church organization and especially the curriculum, whether for Sunday school or other instructional settings, would be the same. Correlation promised to harmonize and unify the church worldwide. At the same time, it guaranteed greater centralization of control and less room for regional or individual variation. In 1970 the Improvement Era,63 the women’s Relief Society Magazine, the Sunday school Instructor, and the Children’s Friend were shut down. Largely independent mission publications, including the respected Millennial Star of the British Mission, by then the oldest continuous Mormon publication, were also terminated. In their place, three age-oriented periodicals addressed the perceived needs of all church members: the Ensign for adults, the New Era for adolescents, and the Friend for children. Internationally, members received a slimmed-down magazine that drew selections from the English publications and reserved a four-page insert for local news. The magazines were all given the local language’s equivalent of “the Liahona,” the Book of Mormon word for compass. Like other correlation efforts, these publications came under the direction of male priesthood leaders, in this case through the Correlation Reading Committees which ensured that members of all ages received official policy and correct doctrine. The Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association was placed under priesthood control as well. Independent fund-raising activities on the part of the auxiliaries were stopped. This was particularly galling to the Relief Society, where women were accustomed to raising funds for building projects and charitable efforts rather than negotiating for a piece of the operating budget.
Each of these developments was intended to strengthen traditional family structure by reinforcing the father’s authority, assuring that the mother devoted full-time attention to the children, and by teaching children the same message at church and in Family Home Evenings. When Elder Lee became church president in 1972, Ruth Hardy Funk, president of the newly renamed Young Women, saw correlation as responding to Lee’s fear of modern society and its impact on the members. He had, she said, “this sense of social breakdown. . . He saw the breakdown of the nuclear family.”64
Though President Lee served for only seventeen months before his death in December 1973, he had made the family, traditional roles and values, and gender/age-appropriate behavior for family members the central focus of all church programs. His successor, Spencer W. Kimball, energetically continued this effort. The strongest weapon the church had against the modern secular (i.e., irreligious) world was the family, characterized by patriarchal leadership, obedience, and faith. This was “the answer to the world’s needs,” President Kimball affirmed in April 1973. He drew a powerful image of “righteous, teaching parents; obedient, loving children; [and] faithfulness to family duties.”65
Correlation provided more evidence of Mormonism’s shift from a sect to a church. It helped seal the standardization of the message, educational materials, meeting formats, schedules, and hierarchical relationships. It positioned women in a clearly defined place and regulated their activities according to standards and policies rather than local talents or interests. In the process, the autonomy and independence that nineteenth-century women had experienced were reined in more tightly and regulated in the name of efficiency and internationalization. Women served on correlation curriculum committees and played a role in the development of programs that impacted women. Nevertheless, in the process, women lost significant power over their own organizations.
Mormons and the Religious Right
One of the ironies of the church’s anti-ERA campaign was that a group of apolitical women, under the direction of male leaders who insisted that the effort was not political and working against an effort to guarantee women the right to assert themselves, became more politically active in the process. Even more ironic was how successful such women were with relatively little previous experience.
Popular literature bolstered the success of the anti-ERA effort through Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood published in 1965 and Mirabelle Morgan’s The Total Woman published in 1973, both of which taught the submission of women as not only a religious duty but as the path to secure, happy, and sexually fulfilled marriages. Those who made this claim acknowledged the connection between female submissiveness and religious fundamentalism,66 taking literally God’s “curse” on Eve: “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). There was nothing new about this emphasis, either in Mormonism or in the larger Judeo-Christian community, but the religious right emphasized the tenet in defense of traditional gender roles and saw it as a necessary path for personal and social salvation.
The approach was doubly familiar with its echoes of nineteenth-century true womanhood. The deferential order sustained by women continued full force with the “fascinating woman.” Rather than questioning their role as their husband’s supporter, women understood the hierarchy embedded in Christian theology, understood their ranking in it, and believed it necessary to create stability and security in their lives. Womanly submissiveness was necessary for a family’s happiness. It kept them safe, kept them ordered, and it was a reflection of a larger pattern designed by God.
Traditional Mormon women stood squarely in the ranks of the right’s opposition to social change promised by American feminism. Marching with their counterparts in other traditional American religions, they fit the profile, offered the strength evident in their numbers, and mirrored the national duality between feminists and traditional women. In March 1976 two sociologists, David Brady and Kent Tedin, published their study of women who opposed the ERA based on data gathered from among those who attended the Texas legislative hearings on whether to rescind ratification.67 The researchers knew that the secular right and religious right tend to be middle- to upper-middle-class, middle-aged, from rural backgrounds, and that 70 percent of the women are non-working housewives. The women at the Texas hearings fit the predicted profile. Forty-five percent were over age forty-five (26 percent were between twenty-six and thirty-five), 33 percent had graduated from high school, 35 percent had some college education, and so on. The authors suggested that women’s religious beliefs and values were a major source for their political beliefs, although “small town provincialism is another possible source.” Interestingly, those who were not fundamentalists were perhaps “partially motivated by an ‘old fashioned individualism.'”68
According to social scientist Ira Rohter’s 1969 work, the “defining characteristic of a radical rightist. . . is his belief that there exists a vast conspiracy” of individuals who have “worked their way into positions of power and influence.”69 Therefore, those on the extreme right oppose big government (sometimes expressed as anti-statism), anti-egalitarianism, and harbor a compelling fear of a moral breakdown in society through liberal sexual lifestyles and mores, permissive child rearing, sex education, and non-mainstream lifestyles or behaviors.
Scholars have not found one representative background for members of the American right, but there is a general consensus that it manifests itself in three basic modes: religious, secular, and segregationist. For the purposes of this book, the religious right is most relevant. Religious rightists find motivation for political action when fundamental religious beliefs seem to be at risk. A literal interpretation of the Bible frequently leads to casting national and international events as a clash between cosmic good and evil forces. Changes in lifestyles or definitions of morality, particularly through increased secularization, pose a threat that must be countered in the strongest possible way, even through violence, as in the case of those who have bombed abortion clinics or assassinated doctors who perform abortions.
Perhaps the best example of a secular group, which also spoke the language of the religious right, was the John Birch Society, established in 1958. Its foundational issue was anti-Communism; but in the American political landscape, it also positioned itself as generally anti-governmental, focused on individual liberty and local rather than federal government. In December 1965, a full-page advertisement appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune with the heading: “What is the John Birch Society?” It described itself appealingly. Since its origins in Indianapolis in 1958, the group had operated as a nonprofit educational organization. “During these seven years we have sought to bring into the John Birch Society only men and women of good character, humane consciences, and religious ideas. For we are striving to set an example, by dedication, integrity, and purpose—in word and deed—which our children’s children may follow without hesitation.” Although members of the group differed in their fundamental beliefs, they shared common goals:
(1) to combat more effectively the evil forces which now threaten our freedom, our lives, our country, and our civilization; (2) to prevail upon our fellow citizens to start pulling out of the deepening morass of collectivism, and then climb up the mountain to higher levels of individual freedom and responsibility than man has ever achieved before; (3) to restore, with brighter luster and deeper conviction, the faith-inspired morality, the spiritual sense of values, and the ennobling aspirations, on which our western civilization has been built. The long-range objective of the Society has been summarized as less government, more responsibilities, and a better world.
During the 1970s the Birch Society used its influence to fight the Equal Rights Amendment. Its dislike of big government and willingness to fight moral issues on a political stage brought its objectives in line with those of the Mormon Church.
According to a survey in the early 1970s, women affiliated with this group, not surprisingly, tended to be middle- to upper-class and were predominantly unemployed.70 Although Robert Welch, the society’s president during the 1970s, often said that his organization was religiously neutral, its rhetorical arguments against the ERA matched closely those used by other conservative religious groups.71
Among Birch Society educational materials was its Review of the News, through which it established key arguments, focused on relevant political issues, and attempted to create a consistent body of ideas as the ideological framework for the group. In the March 13, 1974, issue, Dan Smoot’s article, titled “Reject or Rescind the E.R.A.,” captured the essence of the society’s stand:
The idealizing of women—honoring them, especially mothers, as if on a pedestal—has always been an obvious fact of American life. It may appear to be mere ritualism in the daily routine of individual women. Yet, it is basic, not only in our romantic concept of what life ought to be like, but in our living. It has profoundly influenced our moral codes, our laws, our customs, all of our institutions, and even our taste; and it has given women a special status which they do not enjoy elsewhere. Nonetheless, politicians have long been under intermittent pressure to adopt an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, to protect women by outlawing sexual discrimination. For decades Congress resisted, or ignored, the pressure. Then, on March 22, 1972, both houses of Congress, by large majorities, passed and submitted to the states for ratification a proposed Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.). Within two hours, Hawaii had ratified it. New Hampshire and Nebraska ratified the next day. Within two months, ten other states had ratified: Iowa, Idaho, Delaware, Kansas, Texas, Maryland, Tennessee, Alaska, Rhode Island, and New Jersey—in that order. The E.R.A. Resolution provides that, to become valid, it must be ratified by three-fourths of all State Legislatures.72
Smoot reminded readers that men were legally heads of families. The ERA, he argued, would victimize women, degrade them in planned ways, and, in effect, eventually victimize all people.
Thanks to the influence of LDS Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, a John Birch Society sympathizer, and his son, Reed, who was a Birch officer, a significant and influential fraction of Mormons affiliated with the society during the 1960s and 1970s. But Mormonism produced its own home-grown version of similar political leanings in the secularly oriented Freeman Institute, organized in the early 1970s and headquartered in Utah County. It borrowed its name from a Book of Mormon political party, but was later renamed the National Center for Constitutional Studies. Its founder, W. Cleon Skousen, formerly of the FBI and then police chief Salt Lake City, and with an appointment on the BYU religion faculty, made his reputation largely through his political polemics, of which the best known was The Naked Communist. The Freeman Institute, like the Birch Society, saw the ERA as a major threat to the moral fiber of the United States, an assault on rights and values, and hence a natural focus for its energies. Because of cross-over membership in the LDS Church, the rhetorical arguments of both the Birch Society and the Freeman Institute are relevant to this discussion.
Although LDS Church leaders centered their ERA arguments in the moral implications based on theological issues, right-wing secular groups embraced the church’s opposition to the ERA for the sake of numbers. Still, the Birch Society saw the amendment as a threat to the Constitution and a part of the “Socialist-Communist menace.”73
The Birch Society clarified its position during the same period the Mormon Church refined its arguments. Operating in a similar cultural milieu, it is understandable that they used similar rhetorical arguments, invoking legal arguments on the one hand and the laws of God on the other. Thomas J. Mclntyre and John C. Obert in The Fear Brokers found the tactics of the Birch Society and other groups on the religious right were grounded in a fear on the part of many Americans about what they considered to be an increasingly lax and promiscuous moral environment. “The Rightists calculated,” Mclntyre wrote, “that these same Americans saw abortion on demand, easier penalties on marijuana use and possession, First Amendment restraints on suppressing pornography, the Equal Rights Amendment, gay rights, school busing to achieve racial balance in the classroom, and even gun control and the new Panama Canal treaties as threats to long-held standards and values.”74 He concluded that supporters of the ERA committed a fatal strategic error in failing to grasp the fear and reaction to change in hometown America: “Without a clear, indeed empathetic understanding of the hopes, fears and aspirations of heartland America, liberals and moderates cannot mount a persuasive rebuttal to the New Right’s delusive tenets or a telling counter to its tactics.”75
In contrast, according to political scientist John Cooper, the religious right accurately represented these hopes and fears to middle America. Writing in 1970 before the ERA had become the battleground for these competing values, Cooper observed: “Rather than being a bulwark against the turn [to the] right, the church (as a whole) has been one of the prime routes of the reactionary infection in the American bloodstream.”76 Seven years later, historian Irving Louis Horowitz saw the right as ruthlessly exploiting the resources of religion for its political ends: “Far from being a humane and judicious conception of the spiritual, the new conservatism uses religion cynically, for adventurist ends. Theoretically it holds that religion is a pragmatic device for maintaining a society based on private property, order, duty. It attempts to provide a cosmic scope for imperial pretensions. A more ironic use of theology is hardly imaginable.”77 Yet for religious people frightened by the sweeping and sometimes savage social changes of the 1960s, the right promised legal and Constitutional avenues to stem the tide of moral degeneration that could propel the nation toward Armageddon.
Cheryl Arvidson, a Las Vegas Sun reporter, allegated in September 1977 that a coalition to fight the ERA had been formed between the Birch Society, the American Nazi Party, the Mormon Church, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Conservative Caucus. Similar charges surfaced in other states.78 In 1978 a one-page flyer circulated in Nevada titled The New-Right Political Apparatus: A Well Greased Machine for God, Family and True-Blue Americanism attributed the takeover of the International Woman’s Year conference in Utah (see chap. 7) to ties between major right-wing groups, particularly the Birch Society and the LDS Church personified by the dual allegiance of Apostle Ezra Taft Benson. The anonymous author referenced a Benson speech delivered in Las Vegas and reported in the Valley Times on October 2, 1975, in which the church elder had reportedly described the federal food stamp program as “moral erosion.”79 Such incursions into political territory were not without their price, as indicated by a headline in a Nevada newspaper in 1975: “Anti-Church Prejudice Grows.”80
In addition to the John Birch Society and Freeman Institute, the LDS Church welcomed an affiliation with conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, established in 1972. Schlafly fostered the relationship with shared literature, lectures at common events, and a series of meetings to establish friendships. In fact, she used her organization to defend Mormonism, saying it was under siege by the forces of evil embodied in proponents of the ERA. “It is clear that NOW and other radical ERAers have launched a propaganda campaign against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” the forum’s newsletter announced in 1980, “and they have been joined by the Justice Department, much of the media, and Phil Donahue.”81
This article then denounced the U.S. Department of Justice’s motion to disqualify a Mormon judge in Idaho from hearing the rescission decision because he held the mid-level ecclesiastical appointment of Regional Representative (see chap. 12).82 “This was the most shocking attack on the First Amendment ever made by the US Government!” the article claimed. In response to NOW’s assertion that a high-ranking Mormon official could not have the “appearance of impartiality when we know of the church’s official position against the ERA and ERA extension,” the article responded: “In the first place, the Judge has not had any church title since last October. Secondly, the Mormon Church does not have professional clergy like most other denominations, but uses laymen to handle local church duties. All informed people know that Mormon bishops are not clergy but laymen. So, the entire issue raised by the Justice Dept. . . . is phony,”83 Judge Callister was not disqualified; he ruled that the Idaho legislature could in fact rescind its ratification of the ERA, which it did.
Those who feared ratification of the ERA acquired a rhetorical stance toward women, men, and families. According to their view, traditional domestic roles were to be protected because of the physiological, emotional, social, and even spiritual differences between men and women. Upsetting the balance could lead to social chaos and disruption. Moreover, the masculine man and the feminine woman had important family roles that needed to be preserved; religion, law, and education were to support this understanding of the foundation of a stable society. The Mormon Church’s position against the ERA reflected this ideology and had the support, or at least compliance, of a great majority of its members.
Supporters of the ERA, though speaking with much more divergent voices, created a rhetoric of diversity that stressed individual differences of both men and women, even in family patterns. Persistently, they pointed to changes in economic realities and societal values that needed to be acknowledged if the general welfare of each individual American was to be promoted. What was best for the individual would ultimately prove to be best for the family. In other words, there was much that feminists and traditionalists could have agreed on in that they saw a similar problem from a different perspective. However, their concerns were expressed in such different rhetorical styles that they were unable to understand each other clearly. They drew on the ideas and symbols that were most relevant to their worldview—the ERA itself emerging as the most potent symbol of all. Both sides acknowledged pervasive injustices to women. Conservatives considered the proposed ERA to be an example of change for its own sake, threatening the destruction of everything conservatives valued most highly. For feminists, the amendment was an honorable and historically honored way of creating institutional change that would bring greater equity to a group that experienced discrimination.
Although there were certainly exceptions, it is not unfair to characterize the traditionalists as responding to and using the emotional tools—primarily anxiety about change and fear of moral decay. This was a strength since it served to mobilize women who had hitherto been content to remain uninvolved in democratic political processes, and the appeal to home and family galvanized powerful commitments that allowed coalition-building across hitherto impermeable religious barriers. Furthermore, the traditionalists did not need to produce new arguments or think their way through complex positions: They were defending the status quo. By exaggerating the issues and using scare tactics, they were able to raise the peripheral topics of immorality, homosexuality, and anti-family and anti-God positions.
On the other hand, the privileging of emotion over reason also proved to be a weakness. Although the anti-ERA battle was successful, the anti-rationalism sharply divided women. No exact figures are available, but anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant fraction of Mormon women felt the chill of social ostracism; more subtly, even if they kept their opinions to themselves and apparently continued to fit in, they no longer defined themselves as fully “belonging.” Perhaps more seriously, traditionalists remained uninformed about democratic processes and unskilled in reason and compromise, while simultaneously acquiring a deeper suspicion of government, a greater willingness to accept conspiracy theories, and a level of anxiety about America’s social healthiness that would develop into further irrationalism and paranoia as other issues in coming years.
For their part, ERA defenders privileged reason over emotion. This was certainly a strength, but it had an Achilles heel. They assembled impressive historical and statistical evidence on the status of American women, an approach that was unquestionably compatible with the canons of male discourse and made it relatively easy for these women to gain media exposure, but they had to resort to analogy and guesswork for their “evidence” about what would happen if the ERA were passed. This fell flat compared to the dramatically dire predictions that came from their opponents. Cool-headed arguments failed to move women in the same way or bring the issue into someone’s home and daily life. Rejecting emotional appeals as logically fallacious and unpersuasive, ERA proponents failed to understand what a powerful force emotion could be.
Social scientists Carol Mueller and Thomas Dimieri described the rhetorical stand-off when they considered the difference between proactive and reactive movements: “Reactive movements are those which seek to protect old rights; proactive movements demand new rights. . . . Reactive demands are still legitimized by the prevailing culture while proactive demands are not. . . . In this challenge phase of its life cycle, the proactive movement must define and provide symbols for legitimating new, more desirable social arrangements.”84 Armed with rhetoric that drew on theology, social systems, and political realities, the anti-ERA movement resisted, and then attacked, the rational and intellectual rhetoric of ERA supporters. In the end, it was the appeal to emotion and a rejection of reason that carried the day.
NOTES to Introduction:
1. Linda Sillitoe, “Don’t Use My Name,” 1979, photocopy of typescript, Utah Women’s Issues Collection, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. The quotations that follow are from this typescript.
2. Ruth Murray Brown, For a “Christian America”: A History of the Religious Right (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002).
3. Addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation is an even thornier political issue and will probably become the moral/ethical/social fight of the twenty-first century.
4. bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Cambridge, MA: South End Press Classics, 1984), 5. Ms. hooks doesn’t capitalize her name.
5. Ibid., 28, 35. For hooks, the campaign for and against the ERA would have been better served by stressing the transformative effect of “a massive political campaign to build a feminist constituency.” Instead, “Where one stood depended largely on what one perceived to be the appropriate position of women in American society and what threatened to change it” (35).
6. Dan L. Thrapp, “Mormon Church Has Answer for All Needs, Its New Leader Says,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 5, 1974.
7. “BYU Women Oppose ERA, Survey Says, Men Prefer ‘Pretty Faces,'” Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 13, 1977.
8. Elaine Cannon, “What Is a Girl Good For?” New Era, Feb. 1968, 35.
9. “LDS Mother Speaks Out against Women’s Lib,” Church News, Dec. 18, 1976.
10. See Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860,” in The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective, ed. Michael Gordon (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983), 313-28. According to Welter, ideal women of this period were characterized by piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity.
11. My thanks to Edward L. Kimball for checking his father’s diaries at my request.
NOTES to Chapter 4:
1. “The National Organization for Women, Statement of Purpose,” 1966 in Perspectives on American Civilization, eds. Robert A. Goldberg and L. Ra Gunn (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 335.
2. Ibid., 336.
3. Joan Hoff-Wilson, Rights of Passage: The Past and Future of the ERA (Bloomington: I Indiana University Press, 1986), 39. See also Gilbert Y. Steiner, Constitutional Inequality: The Political Fortunes of the Equal Rights Amendment (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1985).
4. For these and other definitions, see Val Norman Edwards, “A Rhetorical Analysis of Three Policy Statements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1987, 7.
5. Vella Evans, “Woman’s Image in Authoritative Mormon Discourse: Rhetorical Analysis,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Utah, 1985, 245.
6. Thomas S. Monson, “The Women’s Movement: Liberation or Deception?” Ensign, Jan. 1971, 17.
7. Peter James Caulfield, “Rhetoric and the Equal Rights Amendment: Contemporary Means of Persuasion,” Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1984, 13.
8. Ibid., 14.
9. Ibid., 21.
10. Hugh B. Brown, Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 70.
11. LDS First Presidency, “Official Statement,” Church News, Oct. 7, 1978.
12. David B. Magleby, “Contemporary American Politics,” on-line at All about Mormons (www.lightplanet.com/mormons; downloaded Jan. 2003).
13. Stephen L Richards, “Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1951, 877-80.
14. Ibid., 3.
15. Copy in my possession.
16. LDS First Presidency, letter, qtd. in The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue, 22; insert in the Ensign, Mar. 1980.
17. First Presidency, Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment, 20.
18. It is perhaps ironic that their worst fears have been fully realized despite the failure of the ERA.
19. Caulfield, “Rhetoric and the Equal Rights Amendment,” 18.
20. The best summary of these positions is in the First Presidency’s Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
21. Gary and Gordon Shepherd, A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 8.
22. Ibid., 39.
23. Gordon and Gary Shepherd, “Mormonism in Secular Society: Changing Patterns in Official Ecclesiastical Rhetoric,” Review of Religious Research 26 (Sept. 1984): 28-42. See also their Kingdom Transformed.
24. Ibid., 36.
25. Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, transl. Ephraim Fischoff (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963).
26. Bryan Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Social Movements (Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1990), 21.
27. Laura L. Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), esp. the introduction, “Religious Identity and Gender” (1-12) and chap. 5, “Definition of Sectarian Identity and Delineation of Gender in the Adventist Review” (101-30).
28. “Equal Rights Amendment Is Opposed by R.S. President,” Church News, Dec. 21, 1974, 7.
29. Edwards, “A Rhetorical Analysis,” 39.
30. Jane Cartwright, “Relief Society President Assails ERA: Proposal Tabbed ‘Step Backward,'” Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 14, 1974, Bl.
31. “A Conversation with Sister Barbara B. Smith, Relief Society General President,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 7-12.
32. John Unger Zussman and Shauna M. Adix, “Content and Conjecture in the Equal Rights Amendment Controversy in Utah,” Women’s Studies International Forum 5 (1982): 476.
33. Hal Knight, “Most Favor Full Rights for Women,” Deseret News, Nov. 15, 1974, 1, 7.
34. “Equal Rights Amendment,” Church News, Jan. 12, 1975, 4.35. Ibid.
36. “Rally, Vigil Show Support for ERA,” Deseret News, Feb. 18, 1975, B1.
37. “Utah ERA Coalition Charges Unfairness,” Deseret News, Jan. 2 1975, Bl.
38. Peter Gillins, “Church Stand Apparently Dooms ERA Amendment,” Herald Journal (Logan, UT), Jan. 19, 1975, 1.
40. Charles Seldin, “Equal Rights Amendment Suffers Defeat amid Emotional Voting, “Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 19, 1975, 1.
41. First Presidency Statement, Church News, Oct. 30, 1976, 2.
42. “First Presidency Issues Statement Opposing Equal Rights Amendment,” Ensign, Dec. 1976, 79.
43. “ERA Opposition Voiced in Idaho,” Church News, Jan. 15, 1977, 11.
44. Boyd K. Packer, “The Equal Rights Amendment,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 7
45. Title IX reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal assistance.”
46. Packer, “Equal Rights Amendment,” 7.
47. Ibid., 9.
49. “LDS Oppose Additional Time for ERA Approval,” press release Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 25 May 1978, published as “Reaffirmation of the First Presidency’s Position on ERA,” Church News, Aug. 26 1978, 2, and Ensign, Aug. 1978, 80.
50. “Statement of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Opposing Extension of Time for Ratification of Equal Rights Amendment,” submitted to the Honorable Don Edwards, chair, Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Committee on the Judiciary, May 24, 1979, Box 6, fd. 1, Sonia Johnson Collection, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
51. Randall V. Douglass, “Mormons Defeat ERA,” Royalton Guard, 28 Nov. 1979, Johnson Collection.
52. Although there had been a steady and even voluminous trickle of biographies and autobiographies of Mormon women since Edward Tullidge’s The Women of Mormondom (New York: Tullidge, 1877) and August Joyce Crocheron’s Representative Women of Deseret (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884), it was future LDS Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington who inaugurated women’s historical studies in 1971 with the publication of “Blessed Damozels: Women in Mormon History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 6 (Summer 1971): 22-31. The 1970s saw an increase in “recovered” history, particularly the accounts of individual Mormon women; but scholarly and critical treatments were comparatively rare until the 1990s. Two exceptions were John R. Sillito, ed., From College to Market: The Professionalization of Women’s Sphere (Salt Lake City: Utah Women’s History Association, 1983), the proceedings of a conference with limited circulation; and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson, eds., Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).
53. The chief author was Rex E. Lee, dean of BYU’s law school, with assistance from the Ensign‘s production editor.
54. At least one observer in the aftermath of Utah’s IWY conference noted the irony of traditional Mormon women asserting their “free agency” in battling their feminist opponents. Barbara C. Terry of Murray, Utah, wrote in “Say Enough,” a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, 9 July 1977, B4: “I suspect the actions of the Mormon women at the Salt Palace are quite in character with their political positions. In opposing an amendment that would affirm the right of all citizens to make free choices and to have all laws applied equally, the LDS women are denying the principles of democratic government which they purport to hold so dear. They are unwilling to pay the price of living in a democracy. That price is that we must allow other people to make personal choices that we would not choose for them. Perhaps this is the greatest price the church must pay for its victory–the denial of democracy. The Mormon women attended the meetings to destroy and disrupt, not to participate. I am sickened at what has become of my once strong and courageous people. It is time for thinking LDS women to say enough, enough.”
55. At the time, Gordon B. Hinckley was a spokesman for the church and a member of its Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the ecclesiastical and administrative council next in line in authority to the First Presidency. At age seventy, Hinckley also served on the Church Education Executive Committee (as chair), Church Board of Education, BYU Board of Trustees, and the General Welfare Services Committee. After 1974 he was the leader of the Special Affairs Committee, which organized the nationwide opposition to the ERA.
56. Prior to June 1978, African-descended men were prohibited from ordination to the Mormon priesthood. The announcement of a revelation terminating this prohibition did not apply to women, who are still not allowed ordination.
57. Norman Sclarewitz, “Interview with Gordon B. Hinckley,” PSA Magazine, June 1980, 115-28.
58. Thomas G. Alexander, Utah: The Right Place (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1995), 419.
59. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Honored Place of Woman,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 104-7.
60. Robert Gottlieb and Peter Wiley, American Saints: The Rise of Mormon Power (New York: G. P Putnam’s Sons, 1984), 195.
61. See Lynn M. Anderson, “Issues in Contemporary Mormon Feminism,” in Mormon Identities in Transition, ed. David J. Davies (New York: Cassells, 1996), 159-65; Marie Cornwall, “The Institutional Role of Mormon Women,” in Contemporary Mormonism, eds. Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton and Lawrence A. Young (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 239-64.
62. Harold B. Fee, Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 81; also on Gospelink 2001, CD-ROM (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001).
63. In 1897 the Improvement Era replaced The Contributor, which had been in circulation since 1879 as voice of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations. In 1929 the Improvement Era merged with the Young Women’s Journal, which had been published since 1889 for the YWMIA. By the 1940s, and increasingly from that point on, the Improvement Era became a general-interest magazine for adults, adding a pull-out section for teens in the 1960s. Richard D. McClellan, “Periodicals,” Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, eds. Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 908.
64. Qtd. in Gottlieb and Wiley, American Saints, 195.
65. Spencer W. Kimball, “The Family Influence,” Ensign, July 1973, 17.
66. Mirabelle Morgan, The Total Woman (Old Tappan, NJ: F. H. Revill, 1973); Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood (San Luis Obispo, CA: Pacific Press, 1966).
67. David W. Brady and Kent L. Tedin, “Ladies in Pink: Religion and Political Ideology in the Anti-ERA Movement,” Social Science Quarterly 56 (Mar. 1976): 564-75. Brady and Tedin were both raised Mormon.
68. Ibid., 574.
69. Ira Rohter, “Social and Psychological Determinants of Radical Rightism,” in The American Right Wing, ed. Robert A. Schoenberger (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969), 196.
70. Barbara S. Stone, “The John Birch Society: A Profile,” Journal of Politics 36 (Feb. 1974): 184-97.
71. Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 248-64.
72. Dan Smoot, “The Dan Smoot Report–Reject or Rescind the E.R.A.,” Review of the News, Mar. 13,1974, 31-38.
73. Lisa Cronin Wohl, “A Mormon Connection? The Defeat of the ERA in Nevada,” Ms. Magazine, July 1977, 70.
74. Thomas J. McIntyre, with John C. Obert, The Fear Brokers (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1979), 13.
75. Ibid., 10-11.
76. John Cooper, The Turn Right (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970), 69.
77. Irving Louis Horowitz, Ideology and Utopia in the United States (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 1977), 191.
78. Cheryl Arvidson, Las Vegas Sun, Sept. 8, 1977.
79. N.a., “The New Right Political Apparatus: A Well Greased Machine for God, Family, and True-Blue Americanism,” N.p., 1978, Box 35, fd. 2, Johnson Collection.
80. Cy Ryan, “Anti-Church Prejudice Grows,” Valley Times, Sept. 24,1975.
81. “The Blank Check Called ERA,” Eagle Forum Newsletter, Jan. 1980, 1, Utah Women’s Issues Collection, Marriott Library, University of Utah.
82. This judge was Marion Callister. As a regional representative, he was the liaison between local church officers and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
83. “Blank Check Called ERA,” 1.
84. Carol Mueller and Thomas Dimieri, “The Structure of Belief Systems among Contending ERA Activists,” Social Forces 60 (1982): 657-75.